11 December 2017

Fishing nets major threat to penguins

AUSTRALIA – The results of the first global review of penguin bycatch are in – and they highlight the serious risks that fishing nets pose to the survival of many penguin species. The study was published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

Penguins are among the world’s most iconic and loved birds, in spite of the fact most people will never get to see one in the wild. And opportunities to do so are diminishing, with 10 of the 18 penguin species threatened with extinction. After albatrosses, penguins are the most threatened group of seabirds. And this global review shows that, as it is for albatrosses, bycatch is a serious threat to some penguin species.

02 December 2017

Yellow-eyed penguin nest numbers down

NEW ZEALAND – Recent yellow-eyed/hoiho penguin nest counts on mainland New Zealand indicate a continued decline in numbers in some areas for this rare species, said Department of Conservation (DOC) Threatened Species Ambassador Nicola Toki.

DOC carries out monitoring, research, and intensive management for yellow-eyed penguins alongside Treaty Partner Ngāi Tahu, key programme partner the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, University of Otago, important local associates such as Penguin Place and Penguin Rescue, community groups and volunteers.

15 November 2017

Experts team up on study to save endangered African penguins

SOUTH AFRICA – With less than 25,000 breeding pairs in existence today, it is an uphill battle for South Africa's African penguin. The 60% drop in their population since 2001 has put them on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's endangered species list. In some colonies, the drop in population has been as high as 80%. Competition with fisheries, oil spills, climate change, diseases and predators are all contributing factors in their dramatic decline.

African penguins.
Photo credit: Ralph E.T. Vanstreels, D.V.M., Ph.D
To preserve this species and optimise rehabilitation efforts, epidemiologist Adam Schaefer from Florida Atlantic University in the USA joined forces with scientists Nola Parsons and Ralph Vanstreels from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). The facility, located near Cape Town, South Africa, receives more than 900 African penguins for rehabilitation each year. While the success rate for the overall release of these penguins back into the wild is about 75%, limited data exists on the factors that contribute to their successful rehabilitation.

To better understand how to improve the rehabilitation of African penguins, the researchers conducted a first-of-its-kind study on prognostic health indicators such as body mass, blood analysis, and infectious disease exposure. For the study, they analysed 3,657 adult African penguins that were admitted to the SANCCOB facility for rehabilitation between 2002 and 2013.

06 November 2017

Penguins' calls are influenced by their habitat

AUSTRALIA – Birds use vocalisations to attract mates, defend territories and recognise fellow members of their species. But while we know a lot about how variations in vocalisations play out between populations of songbirds, it’s far less clear how this variation affects birds such as penguins in which calls are inherited.

A little penguin. Photo credit: D. Colombelli-Négrel
A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances examined differences in the calls of little penguins – nocturnal birds for whom vocalisations are more important that visual signals – from four colonies in Australia. It found that disparities in habitat, rather than geographic isolation or other factors, seem to be the key driver of variation in the sounds these birds use to communicate.

Diane Colombelli-Négrel and Rachel Smale of Flinders University recorded calls from four little penguin populations across a small area of South Australia, one of which had previously been shown to have subtle genetic differences from the other three. They then used playback experiments to test penguins’ ability to distinguish between calls from different colonies.

06 October 2017

A first look at geographic variation in gentoo penguin calls

Many birds use sound to attract mates and defend territories – vocal communication is central to their lives. Penguins are no exception, but we know little about how or why penguin vocalisations vary geographically between isolated populations.

Gentoo penguin calling. Credit: M Lynch.
A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances takes a broad look at vocalisations across the range of gentoo penguins. It concludes that while their calls do vary from place to place, we still have a lot to learn about the processes at work.

The gentoo penguin’s “ecstatic” call, consisting of repeated pairs of short syllables, is used to attract and contact mates. Maureen Lynch and her PhD advisor Dr Heather Lynch (no relation) of Stony Brook University recorded ecstatic calls at 22 gentoo penguin colonies across the Antarctic Peninsula, southern Argentina and nearby islands.

They found variation in call frequency and duration both within and between colonies, but saw no clear patterns based on latitude, region or subspecies. An algorithm based on their data was able to classify calls to correct colonies better than random, but with a high error rate.

04 October 2017

Penguin-mounted video captures gastronomic close encounters of the gelatinous kind

SOUTHERN OCEANS – Footage from penguin-mounted mini video recorders shows four species of penguin eating jellyfish and other gelatinous animals, a food source penguins were not previously believed to eat. Scientists reported the findings this month in the Ecological Society of America's peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Video logs confirmed that penguins targeted gelatinous animals for meals  – the birds did not merely ingest them accidentally while aiming for fish or other prey. Connecting this link in the food web helps ecologists understand the ecological niche of "gelata", a group the authors have defined based on shared gelatinous physique and ocean habitat, though it includes organisms from very different branches of the tree of life.

19 August 2017

The penguin that never was: "a fun and unexpected story"

NEW ZEALAND – A Tasmanian penguin long thought extinct never even existed, University of Otago-led research has discovered.

New science has debunked old science by showing the bones from the so-called Hunter Island penguin were actually from three different living penguin species, including two from New Zealand.

Otago Department of Zoology PhD candidate Ms Tess Cole says the findings, using ancient DNA methods, were unexpected.

11 August 2017

Scientists track penguins by analysing tail feathers

ANTARCTICA – Knowing where and how Antarctic penguins, and other seabirds and marine predators, migrate is critical for conservation efforts. Electronic tracking devices have helped scientists track marine animals’ migration patterns, but the devices can be expensive, invasive for the animal and challenging to retrieve.

A pair of nesting adult chinstrap penguins
in the South Shetland Islands,
Antarctic Peninsula.
Photo credit: M. Polito, LSU
Now, scientists have discovered a new and potentially better way to track where penguins go over the winter using forensics. The study was published on 9 August in Biology Letters.

“You can say, penguins ‘are where they eat,’ because a geochemical signature of their wintering area is imprinted into their feathers,” said Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Assistant Professor Michael Polito, the lead author of the study.

Chinstrap and Adélie penguins are part of the family of “brush-tailed” penguins named after their long, stiff tail feathers. These birds shed all of their feathers after each breeding season and before they migrate to their oceanic wintering grounds. However, their long tail feathers continue to grow well into the winter when penguins are at sea.

09 August 2017

Hundreds of penguin deaths go unreported by the NZ fishing industry

NEW ZEALAND – Hundreds of penguins, including endangered yellow-eyed penguins, are dying in fishing set nets each year, according to conservation organisation Forest & Bird.

Yellow-eyed penguin. Photo credit: Kimberley Collins
Information released under New Zealand's Official Information Act shows that Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) recorded 14 penguin deaths in the year from October 2015 to October 2016, but Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said this is likely to be vastly underreported.

“Thirteen of the 14 deaths were reported by MPI observers, who cover only 3 percent of fishing boats,” Mr Hague said.

“The real number of penguin deaths is likely to be in the hundreds, since the 97% of the fishing fleet that has no observers has reported only one dead penguin.”

08 August 2017

Drug safety for penguins

UNITED KINGDOM – Researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine have determined the most effective drug dose to help penguins in managed care fight off disease.

Aspergillosis is a common respiratory fungal disease in African penguins under managed care. Historically this disease was treated with the antifungal medication itraconazole. Unfortunately, due to drug resistance, this treatment failed.

Recently another antifungal medication, voriconazole, has been used but, due to the dosing being based on other avian medications, this has resulted in the penguins suffering from adverse drug effects.

Drug exposure
Researchers, led by Dr Katharine Stott, sought to determine the safest and most effective dose of voriconazole for African penguins.

13 June 2017

Council frustrated by more dog-related penguin deaths

NEW ZEALAND – Another dog attack in Wellington resulting in the death of two little blue penguins has highlighted the importance of careful supervision of dogs – even in off-leash exercise areas.

The most recent incident occurred in the off-leash exercise area at Houghton Bay beach on Saturday 10 June. This attack closely follows the death of a little blue penguin on Wellington’s waterfront last month.

Both attacks are a stark reminder of the need to keep all dogs on a leash where required, and strictly monitored when not, said Councillor Peter Gilberd, who holds Wellington City Council's Natural Environment Portfolio.

11 June 2017

Finding new homes won't help emperor penguins cope with climate change

ANTARCTICA – If projections for melting Antarctic sea ice through 2100 are correct, the vanishing landscape will strip emperor penguins of their breeding and feeding grounds and put populations at risk. But like other species that migrate to escape the wrath of climate change, can these iconic animals be spared simply by moving to new locations?

Stephanie Jenouvrier with young emperor penguins.
Photo credit: Stephanie Jenouvrier,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
According to new research led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), they cannot. Scientists report that dispersal may help sustain global emperor penguin populations for a limited time, but, as sea ice conditions continue to deteriorate, the 54 colonies that exist today will face devastating declines by the end of this century. They say the emperor penguin should be listed as an endangered species. The study was recently published in the journal Biological Conservation.

“We know from previous studies that sea ice is a key environmental driver of the life history of emperor penguins, and that the fifty-percent declines we’ve seen in Pointe Géologie populations along the Antarctic coast since the 1950s coincide with warmer climate and sea ice decline,” said Stephanie Jenouvrier, WHOI biologist and lead author of the study.

23 May 2017

Researchers say mainland yellow-eyed penguins face extinction unless urgent action taken

NEW ZEALAND – In a newly published study in the international journal PeerJ, scientists have modelled factors driving mainland yellow-eyed penguin population decline and are calling for action to reduce regional threats.

Photo credit: Dr Thomas Mattern
According to the researchers' prediction models, breeding success of the penguins will continue to decline to extinction by 2060 largely due to rising ocean temperatures. But these predictions also point to where our conservation efforts could be most effective in building penguins' resilience against climate change.

The yellow-eyed penguin, classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is a key attraction for New Zealand tourism. Yet, the chances of seeing the penguins in the wild are quietly slipping away, the new research suggests.

Lead study author Dr Thomas Mattern of the University of Otago said his team's predictions are conservative estimates and do not include additional adult die-off events such as the one seen in 2013 in which more than 60 penguins died.

22 May 2017

Gari the penguin crosses the ditch

NEW ZEALAND – On 16 May 2017 an endangered Fiordland crested penguin named Gari headed to her new home at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, after years of care and treatment at The Nest Te Kōhanga, Wellington Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital.

Gari as a juvenile penguin at The Nest Te Kōhanga
in March 2015. Credit: Wellington Zoo
Gari was just a juvenile bird when she was originally found in Hokitika with extensive wounds to her lower abdomen and to her left foot. Gari received care and initial treatment by the veterinarian team at West Coast Vets Hokitika, and then the West Coast Penguin Trust arranged for her to fly to Wellington to receive further treatment at The Nest Te Kōhanga in December 2014.

“When Gari first arrived at The Nest Te Kōhanga, we performed a general health check and multiple surgeries to repair her various wounds,” said Senior Veterinarian Baukje Lenting.

“We don’t know how Gari sustained her injuries but due to the severity of the wound around her lower abdomen, her vent has changed shape and location since healing. This means she would likely struggle to produce and lay fertile eggs in the wild.”

New Zealand penguins in crisis

NEW ZEALAND – The world’s threatened penguin species live in New Zealand and yet there is no co-ordinated government plan to protect them, New Zealand conservation organisation Forest & Bird has said.

Forest & Bird is joining a global Protect a Penguin campaign to help save penguins and is calling for a national recovery plan to protect New Zealand’s struggling penguin species.

The world’s penguins are in crisis with 10 of out of 18 species at risk of being wiped out. Five of these threatened species live and breed on New Zealand’s mainland and sub-Antarctic islands.

"We are urging the New Zealand government to establish a national Penguin Recovery Group, administered by the Department of Conservation. This group, similar to the very successful Kiwi Recovery Group, would facilitate a more coordinated and collaborative approach to the conservation of all our penguins," said Forest & Bird's CE Kevin Hague.

22 April 2017

Time-lapse cameras peek at penguins' winter behaviour

ANTARCTICA – Not even the most intrepid researcher wants to spend winter in Antarctica, so how can you learn what penguins are doing during those cold, dark months? Simple: Leave behind some cameras.

Time-lapse cameras recorded images of
gentoo penguins at their breeding sites in winter.
Photo credit: T Hart
Year-round studies across the full extent of a species' range are especially important in polar areas, where individuals within a single species may adopt a variety of different migration strategies to get by, and a new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances uses this unique approach to get new insights into gentoo penguin behaviour.

Gentoo penguins are of interest to scientists because they're increasing at the southern end of their range in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, a region where other penguin species are declining.

Little is known about their behaviour during the non-breeding season, so Caitlin Black and Tom Hart of the University of Oxford and Andrea Raya Rey of Argentina's Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Técnicas used time-lapse cameras to examine patterns in gentoo penguins' presence at breeding sites across their range during the off season.

17 April 2017

Penguin colony repeatedly decimated by volcanic eruptions

ANTARCTICA – One of the largest colonies of gentoo penguins in Antarctica was decimated by volcanic eruptions several times during the last 7,000 years according to a new study.

A gentoo penguin excreting guano
onto the snow near Potter Cove,
King George Island.
Photo credit: Steve Roberts
An international team of researchers, led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), studied ancient penguin guano and found the colony came close to extinction several times due to ash fall from the nearby Deception Island volcano. Their results were published on 11 April in Nature Communications.

Ardley Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula, is currently home to a population of around 5,000 pairs of gentoo penguins. Using new chemical analyses of penguin guano extracted in sediment cores from a lake on the island, the researchers unraveled the history of the penguin colony.

18 March 2017

East Antarctica's Adelie penguin population more than double previous estimate

ANTARCTICA – Scientists have their best estimate yet of how many Adélie penguins live in East Antarctica, numbering almost six million, 3.6 million more than previously estimated.

The new research by a team of Australian, French and Japanese scientists used aerial and ground surveys, tagging and resighting data, and automated camera images over several breeding seasons.

The researchers focused on a 5000 kilometre stretch of coastline in East Antarctica, estimating 5.9 million birds and extrapolating that out to likely global estimate of 14–16 million birds.

17 March 2017

In times of plenty, penguin parents keep feeding their grown offspring

A fledged juvenile Galapagos penguin.
Photo credit: Dee Boersma/Galapagos National Park
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS – Humans are not alone in continuing to support offspring who have “left the nest”. It happens in Galapagos penguins, too.

In a paper published online in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, a research team led by University of Washington biology professor Dee Boersma reported that fully grown Galapagos penguins who have fledged – or left the nest – continue to beg their parents for food. And sometimes, probably when the bounty of the sea is plentiful, parents oblige and feed their adult offspring.

“Through field seasons over the years when we were observing penguin behavior in the Galapagos Islands, we saw these isolated instances of adults feeding individuals who had obviously fledged and left the nest,” said Boersma.

“And now we’ve collected enough field observations to say that post-fledging parental care is a normal – though probably rare – part of Galapagos penguin behavior.”

12 March 2017

Penguin hospital saves five percent of yellow-eyed population

NEW ZEALAND – The penguin hospital at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Veterinary Nursing has had 24 yellow-eyed penguins through in the last six weeks.

With only 250 breeding pairs in the wild this year, that means that wildlife vet Lisa Argilla has saved five percent of the breeding population.

“Yellow-eyed penguins are one of the rarest penguins in the world, and are unique to New Zealand.  If we don’t look after them now, they will die out” Dr Argilla said.

27 February 2017

Giant penguin fossil shows penguins may have lived with dinosaurs

NEW ZEALAND – The recent discovery of an approximately 61-million-year-old giant penguin fossil has lead scientists to suggest that penguin evolution started much earlier than previously thought – probably during the age of dinosaurs.

The fossil and its implications are described by Dr Gerald Mayr from Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany and colleagues from Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the journal The Science of Nature.

26 February 2017

New guidance on hand-rearing decisions for endangered penguin chicks

African penguin chicks. Photo credit: SANCCOB.
SOUTH AFRICA – Researchers have developed a model to provide guidance on the likelihood of abandoned African penguin chicks surviving after they are admitted to rehabilitation.

Developed by researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Cape Town, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and Bristol Zoological Society, it is the first model of its kind.

The use of rehabilitation for conservation is growing worldwide, with many research papers monitoring the success of individuals after their release. Rearing chicks that are unlikely to survive naturally could significantly contribute to the conservation of threatened bird species such as the African penguin.

22 February 2017

New study reveals over two decades of penguins' diets

Gentoo penguin chicks. Photo credit: BAS.
ANTARCTICA – The longest and most comprehensive study to date of what penguins eat has been published this month in the journal Marine Biology. It examines the diets of gentoo penguins at Bird Island, South Georgia over a 22-year period and is part of a project investigating the Southern Ocean ecosystem and its response to change.

Penguin parents forage at sea returning to feed their chicks every day. The research team, based at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), found that between 1989 and 2010 gentoo penguins ate approximately equal amounts of crustaceans (mainly Antarctic krill) and fish.

15 February 2017

Endangered African penguins are falling into an 'ecological trap'

AFRICA – As the climate changes and fisheries transform the oceans, the world's African penguins are in trouble, according to researchers reporting in Current Biology on 9 February. Young penguins aren't able to take all the changes into account and are finding themselves "trapped" in parts of the sea that can no longer support them even as better options are available.

"Our results show that juvenile African penguins are stuck foraging for food in the wrong places due to fishing and climate change," said Richard Sherley of the University of Exeter and University of Cape Town.

12 February 2017

Buster the penguin busted up again

NEW ZEALAND – The yellow-eyed penguin hospital at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Veterinary Nursing is full with healing penguins. One is even back for a second visit with wildlife vet Lisa Argilla.

Dr Argilla recognised the unlucky penguin while checking huge gashes across his abdomen and right foot. He was her patient in 2015 when he was flown to her at Wellington Zoo for treatment.  At that time, she had to amputate his right toe. She nicknamed the bird “Buster” and hoped that was the last she’d see of him. But he was recently found injured at Papanui Beach on Otago Peninsula.

07 February 2017

Annual monitoring shows yellow-eyed penguin numbers still a concern

NEW ZEALAND – The Department of Conservation (DOC), Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and others have completed the annual yellow-eyed penguin monitoring along the Otago and Southland coastline. It's estimated that there are 260 breeding pairs.

This number is still of concern given historically there were between 400 to 600 breeding pairs and the current number is a repeat of last year – the lowest for 25 years.

21 January 2017

Penguin hospital opens in Otago

NEW ZEALAND  –  This (southern hemisphere) summer is looking a lot brighter for Otago’s yellow-eyed penguins. They now have their very own local hospital set up at Otago Polytechnic's School of Veterinary Nursing.

The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust successfully raised enough money to contract wildlife veterinarian Lisa Argilla for a second year. She has moved to Dunedin for the summer to care for injured penguins and said she couldn’t do it without the facility at Otago Polytechnic.

18 January 2017

Yellow-eyed penguins at risk from new NZ climate record

NEW ZEALAND - Increasing temperatures will have disastrous consequences for New Zealand's wildlife - including yellow-eyed penguins - unless the Government acts urgently to cut emissions and fund environmental research, says conservation organisation Forest & Bird.

Figures released this month by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) show that 2016 was the hottest year on record for New Zealand, in line with a new global record announced by the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service last week.

“Yellow eyed penguins, kea, and tuatara are already showing some signs of climate change induced stress. The consequences for these and many other native species will be severe unless the Government starts leading the way in cutting emissions and funding adaptation research,” said Forest & Bird's Chief Executive, Kevin Hague.