04 December 2016

Citizen science helps to discover a thriving Fiordland penguin population in Milford Sound

Fiordland penguin and chick in Milford Sound.
Credit: Dr Thomas Mattern, Tawaki Project
NEW ZEALAND – A search for the elusive Fiordland penguin (known as tawaki in Maori) in Milford Sound has revealed the birds to be thriving.

The Tawaki Project,a collaboration between the Department of Conservation, University of Otago, Global Penguin Society and West Coast Penguin Trust, is the first major research on Fiordland penguin numbers since the 1970s. The project aims to identify sea-based factors that influence the penguins’ foraging and breeding success along the coastlines of South Westland, Fiordland, Stewart Island and Codfish Island.

03 December 2016

RSPCA to the rescue for little penguin trapped in a drain

AUSTRALIA – A lost juvenile fairy (little) penguin has found a happy ending, rescued by RSPCA NSW after being found trapped in a stormwater drain in Haberfield, in Sydney’s Inner West.

RSPCA NSW inspectors attended the drain after receiving a report from Inner West locals Josh Pirini and Scott Martin about a lost penguin that was distressed and making “wild noises” when they attempted to pick him up.

The penguin was stuck inside a smaller pipe in the drain, and was washed out with a gush of water, allowing him to be rescued.

06 November 2016

The habits of highly effective penguins

Little penguin. Credit: Massey University
NEW ZEALAND – Researchers from Massey University and the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony are working together to improve conservation of little penguins by uncovering the characteristics of a successful penguin.

The researchers will measure penguins' responses to handling and see how these responses are related to breeding success, foraging behaviour and other features of their biology.

They will conduct the research at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony and nearby Oamaru Creek Penguin Refuge, which have more than 300 breeding pairs of little penguins.

05 November 2016

Study shows mixed fortunes for Signy penguins

Gentoo penguins.
Photo credit: British Antarctic Survey
ANTARCTICA – A forty year study on a remote Antarctic island shows that while populations of two penguin species are declining, a third is increasing.

Analysis of census data from Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands reveals that, between 1978 and 2016, the number of chinstrap penguin pairs declined by nearly 70% and pairs of Adélie penguins dropped by more than 40%, but the number of gentoo penguin pairs more than trebled.

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) say they have yet to understand the reasons behind the population changes but they mirror similar studies elsewhere.

04 November 2016

Citizen scientists can now lend a hand in penguin conservation

Adelie penguin nesting on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Photo credit: Heather Lynch, Stony Brook University
USA – Ordinary citizens now have the opportunity to be penguin detectives and help scientists find Antarctica's undiscovered penguin colonies after the launch of a website that tracks Antarctic penguin populations.

The interactive and user-friendly tool was developed by Heather J. Lynch, PhD, an Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, and colleagues. It is the first of its kind, and provides a lens into the world of scientists who analyse penguin living patterns, which are a strong indicator of climate change effects.

Dr Lynch and Mathew R. Schwaller, PhD, at NASA Goddard teamed up with Oceanites, Inc. to develop the Mapping Application for Penguin Populations and Projected Dynamics (MAPPPD): www.penguinmap.com.

02 November 2016

New crowdfunding campaign puts penguins under the microscope

AUSTRALIA – With more than half of the world’s penguin species under threat from extinction, a new Deakin University research project is seeking to investigate the role of microbes in penguin health, physiology and disease.

Researcher from Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology within the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Dr Meagan Dewar, hopes to build knowledge about the basic biology of penguins.

More importantly, she also hopes to gain detailed data about the importance of microbes to penguins' digestion, metabolism, immune system and overall health.

“Many scientists consider penguins to be a sentinel for ocean health, providing valuable information about the health and productivity of our marine ecosystems,” Dr Dewar said.

“If penguins are sentinels for ocean health, then microbes could be considered as sentinels for penguin health.”

15 October 2016

No stress for Rena penguins

NEW ZEALAND – New research suggests that oiled little penguins rehabilitated during the Rena disaster showed no long-term signs of stress from the intense human handling that was needed to get them cleaned and back into the wild.

The Rena grounding off the coast of Tauranga is New Zealand's worst environmental maritime disaster and saw responders from across the country assemble in the region to help. For wildlife, this meant extensive human interaction to clean off oil and the treatment of any other associated health issues.

25 September 2016

Twenty-eight years of natural selection in Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguin at Punta Tombo showing its metal band.
Credit: Dee Boersma
ARGENTINA  –  Biologists of all stripes attest to evolution, but have debated its details since Darwin’s day. Since changes arise and take hold slowly over many generations, it is daunting to track this process in real time for long-lived creatures.

“We know that evolution occurs – that species change,” said Dee Boersma, a University of Washington (UW) professor of biology.

“But to see this process in long-lived animals you have to look at generations of individuals, track how traits are inherited and detect selection at work.”

Boersma studies one particularly intriguing long-lived species, the Magellanic penguins of South America. She has spent 34 years gathering information about their lifespan, reproduction and behaviour at Punta Tombo, a stretch of Argentine coast that serves as their largest breeding site.

Boersma and her colleagues combed through 28 years’ worth of penguin data to search for signs that natural selection  –  one of the main drivers of evolution  –  may be acting on certain penguin traits. As they report in a paper published on 21 September in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, selection is indeed at work at Punta Tombo.

21 September 2016

Research finds Antarctic penguins infected with avian influenza viruses

ANTARCTICA – An Australian researcher has found a new avian influenza virus in Antarctica, causing concern viruses could be reaching the continent more often than previously thought, potentially having implications for the health of the unique species of birdlife.

Associate Professor Aeron Hurt from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) – a joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital – travelled to Antarctica together with collaborators to survey penguins and other birds between 2013 and 2015.

In 2013, Associate Professor Hurt discovered a particularly unusual avian influenza strain in the penguin populations, which had evolved over many years to be substantially different to any other avian influenza viruses around the world.

In this most recent project, two viruses were identified; the first was very similar to the one discovered in 2013, but the second was similar to a North American strain, highlighting it had only been recently introduced to the region.

23 August 2016

King penguin Nils Olav parades his way to a new honour

Photo credit: RZSS Edinburgh Zoo
UK – On  22 August, His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard paid a very special visit to RZSS Edinburgh Zoo to bestow a unique honour upon one of its resident king penguins, Sir Nils Olav. Already a knight, the most famous king penguin in the world was given the new title of “Brigadier Sir Nils Olav”.

The prestigious title was awarded during a special ceremony that was attended by over 50 uniformed soldiers of His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard, who are taking part in The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo this year. Sir Nils inspected the soldiers of the Guard as he paraded his way up Penguin Walk.

16 August 2016

Penguins reveal unknown swimming talents

Rockhopper penguins on Campbell Island
Credit: Kyle Morrison
NEW ZEALAND – The remarkable long distance swimming abilities of penguins have impressed NIWA scientists who have tracked almost 100 birds over winter in the Southern Ocean.

Until now, no one knew where the sub-Antarctic rockhopper and Snares penguins went while they were at sea between April and October each year.

However, an ingenious tagging project, led by NIWA seabird ecologist Dr David Thompson, has found the penguins travelled more than 15,000 km in six months.

“If they are constantly moving this averages out at about 100 km a day but you also have to add on to that the distances covered vertically as the birds dive to capture food,” Dr Thompson said.

03 August 2016

Litte penguins' resilience to climate change investigated

AUSTRALIA - New research by Murdoch University will investigate the future of the little penguin colony in Rockingham, Western Australia.

Dr Belinda Cannell, who has been part of a long term study of the birds, will spend the next three years examining their resilience to coastal waters that have remained warmer than average since late 2010 .

“Little penguins are essentially the canaries in the coalmine for the Shoalwater [Islands] Marine Park,” she said.

“Understanding the viability of this population of penguins will give us a good understanding of the health of the whole ecosystem.”

02 August 2016

This penguin's boot is made for walking ... with a 3D printer

Purps and her new boot
USA – Injured African penguin Purps can walk more easily with her new 3D-printed orthotic boot, made using 3D Systems' scanning, design and printing technology.

The lightweight, custom-fit boot is the result of a collaborative project between veterinary staff at Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut, students at Mystic Middle School and technical experts from ACT Group, a Connecticut-based 3D Systems partner.

Mystic Aquarium resident Purps (whose official name is Yellow/Purple) was left with a non-functional flexor tendon in her ankle following an altercation with another penguin.

Veterinarians at the aquarium initially handcrafted her a boot from moldable plastic material to immobilise, support and protect the injury site. It was adequate, but Mystic Aquarium's animal care team wanted a more modern solution for the boot that would be more durable, less cumbersome for the small bird, and faster to make.

16 July 2016

Dog owners prosecuted after little penguin deaths

AUSTRALIA - The Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) and the Circular Head Council have conducted a joint investigation after 18 little penguins were found dead near a rookery in Stanley on Tasmania’s North-West coast last week.

PWS state compliance coordinator Justin Helmich said the dead penguins were forensically examined and predator attack was identified as the likely cause.

“As a result of that investigation, a number of people have been interviewed and an infringement notice has been issued in respect of a number of dog control related offences,” Mr Helmich said.

09 July 2016

King penguins keep an ear out for predators

UNITED KINGDOM - Sleeping king penguins react differently to the sounds of predators than to non-predators and other sounds, when they are sleeping on the beach. Research carried out at the University of Roehampton has revealed that even asleep, these penguins can distinguish between dangerous and benign sounds.

Both adult and juvenile king penguins are prey to large predators like orcas and giant petrels. Even huge non-predator elephant seals can crush penguins to death with their bulky passage. In an environment like this, king penguins who are exhausted after long diving sessions must constantly keep an ear out for incoming threats.

PhD student Tessa Abigail van Walsum said, "When we played single tones to sleeping penguins, they woke up with little reaction. However, playing them the calls of orcas or skuas caused them to wake up and flee."

08 July 2016

Penguin colonies at risk from erupting volcano

Chinstrap penguins.
Image © Harriet Clewlow
SOUTH SANDWICH ISLANDS – A volcano erupting on a small island in the subantarctic is depositing ash over one of the world’s largest penguin colonies.

Zavodovski Island is a small uninhabited island in the South Sandwich archipelago, part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. Its volcano Mt Curry has been erupting since March 2016. The island is home to around 1.2 million chinstrap penguins – the largest colony for this species in the world.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) recently remapped this chain of volcanic islands and was alerted to a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month in the vicinity. Researchers confirmed from satellite imagery that not one but two volcanoes are erupting in the South Sandwich Islands – Mt Curry on Zavodovski Island to the north of the archipelago and Mt Sourabaya on Bristol Island to the south.

Caracal preys on African penguins in Simon's Town

Caracal caught on camera
SOUTH AFRICA – Camera surveillance has identified a caracal as the predator behind a spate of African penguin fatalities in Simon’s Town over the past two weeks.

The images confirming the large wild cat's presence were captured by trap cameras installed in the area by the City of Cape Town as part of its investigation into the deaths with Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).

01 July 2016

World's first successful artificial insemination of southern rockhopper penguin

Southern rockhopper penguin chick conceived through
artificial insemination. Credit: Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.
JAPAN - In a world first, DNA tests have confirmed that a southern rockhopper penguin chick born at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan in early June was conceived through artificial insemination.

The project was led by Kaiyukan in collaboration with Associate Professor Kusunoki Hiroshi from Kobe University's Graduate School of Agricultural Science.

Penguin populations could drop 60 percent by the end of the century

Adelie penguins at risk
Credit: University of Delaware/Megan Cimino
ANTARCTICA - Climate has influenced the distribution patterns of Adélie penguins across Antarctica for millions of years.

The geologic record shows that as glaciers expanded and covered Adélie breeding habitats with ice, penguin colonies were abandoned. When the glaciers melted during warming periods, this warming positively affected the Adélie penguins, allowing them to return to their rocky breeding grounds.

But now, University of Delaware (UD) scientists and colleagues report that this beneficial warming may have reached its tipping point.

26 June 2016

Little penguin deaths likely due to natural causes

AUSTRALIA - An Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) investigation into water quality at Altona Beach has found the recent deaths of two little penguins and about six toadfish fish were likely due to natural causes.

EPA officers investigated after a member of the public reported seeing the penguins and fish washed up on the beach on 20 June.

Acting EPA Metropolitan Manager Danny Childs said while seeing dead wildlife washed up on Victoria’s beaches can be distressing, it isn’t always due to pollution.

30 April 2016

Fossils may reveal 20-million-year history of penguins in Australia

AUSTRALIA - A study has found that there have been multiple times that different groups of penguins arrived and established themselves in Australia after the continent split from Antarctica. The arrivals included a group of 'giant penguins' that may have lived in Australia after they went extinct elsewhere. The study, by Travis Park from Monash University and colleagues, was recently published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

07 April 2016

Marine preserve to help penguins in a ‘predictably unpredictable’ place

An adult Galapagos penguin. Credit: Dee Boersma
ECUADOR – Since the Galapagos penguins can’t clap, Professor Dee Boersma will do it for them.

Boersma, a conservationist and professor of biology at the University of Washington, is applauding new regulations by the government of Ecuador to protect the waters around the Galapagos Islands as a marine preserve.

“It is very exciting,” said Boersma, who is a finalist for the 2016 Indianapolis Prize for her decades of penguin research and conservation efforts.

“We’ve been working for years in the Galapagos, advising officials in Ecuador to protect the fish-rich waters that penguins and other species rely upon for food.”

04 March 2016

Penguin brains not changed by loss of flight

This is an ancient penguin skull and endocast.
Scale bar is 2.5 cm and letters indicate parts of the brain:
ce, cerebellum; el, endosseus labyrinth; fl, floccular lobe;
ol, optic lobe; os, occipital sinus impression; pb, pituitary bulb;
t, telencephalon; w, wulst.
Photo credit: Courtesy of James Proffitt.
Losing the ability to fly gave ancient penguins their unique locomotion style. But leaving the sky behind didn't cause major changes in their brain structure, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin suggest after examining the skull of the oldest known penguin fossil.

The findings were published in the Journal of Anatomy in February.

"What this seems to indicate is that becoming larger, losing flight and becoming a wing-propelled diver does not necessarily change the [brain] anatomy quickly," said James Proffitt, a graduate student at the university's Jackson School of Geosciences who led the research.

"The way the modern penguin brain looks doesn't show up until millions and millions of years later."

26 February 2016

What makes penguin feathers ice-proof?

SOUTH AMERICA - Humboldt penguins live in places that dip below freezing in the winter, and despite getting wet, their feathers stay sleek and free of ice. Scientists have now figured out what could make that possible. They report in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Physical Chemistry C that the key is in the microstructure of penguins' feathers. Based on their findings, the scientists replicated the architecture in a nanofibre membrane that could be developed into an ice-proof material.

21 February 2016

Abandoned 'supercolony' may hold clues to penguins' response to climate change

More than 600,000 Adelie penguins nest on Cape Adare,
Antarctica. Photo credit: Steve Emslie, UNCW
ANTARCTICA – Researchers recently discovered that Antarctica’s most populous colony of Adélie penguins may have once been nearly twice the size it is today. Clues about why the colony grew so large and what caused the population to decline could help scientists chart the penguins’ response to changes in climate and food resources.

Collaborative research conducted by Louisiana State University (LSU), University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), University of California at Santa Cruz and University of Saskatchewan led to this discovery at Cape Adare, Antarctica.

16 February 2016

Specialist vet focusing on yellow-eyed penguins

Yellow-eyed penguins at Penguin Place.
Photo credit: Pertinent Penguin. Can be used under a
CC BY NC 4.0 International License.
NEW ZEALAND - Otago and Southland’s fragile yellow-eyed penguin population is benefiting from the expertise and experience of wildlife vet Dr Lisa Argilla.

The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust is concerned there may be a repeat of the 2015 season of high injury rates from marine predators, such as barracouta. Recently, five penguins were maimed by suspected barracouta and shark attacks. Penguins injured before they moult have a low chance of survival without early intervention and rehabilitation.

Lisa has been contracted by the Trust for six weeks to ensure injured penguins have the best chance of survival. Lisa has already operated on five injured penguins seriously injured, probably by barracouta.

12 February 2016

Penguin parents' inability to share roles increases their vulnerability to climate change

Crested penguin feeding its chick.
Photo credit: Kyle Morrison
NEW ZEALAND - The fixed division of labour between crested penguin parents increases their chicks' vulnerability to food shortages made ever more common by climate change.

Penguin parents have been unable to adapt their habits to the challenges of increasingly frequent years of limited food supply. As a result, they will become further threatened by extinction, said Kyle Morrison of Massey University and the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, who led a study published in Springer's journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

07 February 2016

Penguin chicks huddle for warmth and protection

ANTARCTICA - Location and environmental conditions may influence when gentoo chicks huddle in cold, wet Antarctic conditions, according to a study published this month in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Caitlin Black from the University of Oxford and colleagues.

Many penguin species huddle together and form creches (aggregations) to conserve heat, gain protection and for other purposes. Although scientists have observed gentoo penguin chicks huddling during the post-guarding period, a period when the parents leave the chicks daily to go find food, these creches have never been studied over a large spatial range in the Antarctic.

The authors of this study looked at the adaptive benefit of creches by using time-lapse cameras to observe gentoo penguin huddling behaviour during the post-guarding period across four study sites at different latitudes.

04 February 2016

NZ's little penguins are recent Aussie invaders

NEW ZEALAND - The little penguin species (popularly known as little blue penguins) found in southern New Zealand is a surprisingly recent invader from Australia, according to a new study led by University of Otago researchers.

Following the recent discovery that little penguins in Otago belong to an Australian species, a team of researchers from New Zealand and the United States set out to determine when the Aussies first arrived.

Adelie penguins, gentoo penguins, food and robots

University of Delaware researchers are working
to better understand foraging competition between
Adelie and Gentoo penguins.
Photo credit: Chris Linder
ANTARCTICA - For hundreds of years, Adélie penguins have been breeding in the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), which has recently become one of the most rapidly warming areas on Earth.

At Palmer Station, a US research base located along the WAP, scientists have been monitoring Adélie penguin population declines for decades. There were 15,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins in 1975; today only a few thousand pairs are left.

Now, in a study published in Scientific Reports, University of Delaware oceanographers consider whether Adélie penguins and gentoo penguins - newcomers to the Palmer Station region over the last two decades - may be competing for the same food resources and whether this might exacerbate the Adélie population decline.