04 February 2021

Dogs on holiday causing penguin nightmare

NEW ZEALAND – The Department of Conservation (DOC) is asking pet owners to ensure their animals are under control and kept out of prohibited areas following the recent death of a rare tawaki (Fiordland penguin), thought to have been killed by a dog at a Haast wildlife refuge.

Recently, a dog was seen running loose in the Okahu/Jackson Bay Wildlife Refuge and a short time later, clumps of tawaki feathers were found in the coastal forest beside the Wharekai Te Kou walking track.

A tawaki penguin on another Haast beach has also been handed in by a member of the public who found it injured on the beach, with evidence of being attacked by a dog. The penguin sadly had to be put down. 

19 August 2020

Penguins are Aussies – or are they Kiwis?

From the 1.2-metre-tall emperor penguin to the aptly named 30-centimetre-long little penguin, these unique flightless birds have invaded habitats from Antarctica to the equator, not to mention the hearts of the public.

Juliana Vianna among a group of
rockhopper penguins.
Credit: Juliana Vianna
A comparison of the full genomes of 18 recognised species of penguins provides clues to how they achieved this success – though not their adorability – over tens of millions of years, through warm and cold climate swings. It also cautions that today's rapidly changing climate may be too much for them.

"We are able to show how penguins have been able to diversify to occupy the incredibly different thermal environments they live in today, going from 9 degrees Celsius (48 F) in the waters around Australia and New Zealand, down to negative temperatures in Antarctica and up to 26 degrees (79 F) in the Galápagos Islands," said Rauri Bowie, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and curator in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) at Berkeley. 

"But we want to make the point that it has taken millions of years for penguins to be able to occupy such diverse habitats, and at the rate that oceans are warming, penguins are not going to be able to adapt fast enough to keep up with changing climate."

05 August 2020

Scientists discover new penguin colonies from space

ANTARCTICA – A new British Antarctic Survey (BAS) study using satellite mapping technology reveals there are nearly 20% more emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica than was previously thought. The results provide an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of this iconic bird.

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) on 
sea ice at the Brunt ice shelf 
near BAS Halley Research Station
Credit: BAS
Reporting on 4 August 2020 in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, the authors describe how they used images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission to locate the birds. They found 11 new colonies, three of which were previously identified but never confirmed. That takes the global census to 61 colonies around the continent.

Emperor penguins need sea ice to breed and are located in areas that are very difficult to study because they are remote and often inaccessible with temperatures as low as −50°C (−58 degrees Fahrenheit). For the last 10 years, BAS scientists have been looking for new colonies by searching for their guano stains on the ice.

02 August 2020

Turning the tide for the yellow-eyed penguin

NEW ZEALAND – Government, iwi, NGOs and rehabilitation groups are working together to turn around the fortunes of the nationally endangered yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho) following a series of terrible breeding seasons.

The Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage helped launch the Five Year Action Plan at the annual Yellow-Eyed Penguin symposium in Dunedin on 1 August 2020. She said:
I am very pleased at the effort being put in for Hoiho conservation through the partnership between the Department of Conservation (DOC), Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and Fisheries New Zealand. The partners developed Te Kaweka Takohaka mō te Hoiho and Te Mahere Rima Tau, the Five Year Action Plan for hoiho released today.

Te Kaweka Takohaka mō te Hoiho is a high-level strategy which aims to restore hoiho populations in the face of pressures from human activities at sea and on land.

The strategy for hoiho is the first to follow this partnership approach. It underlines the importance of a united effort to protect and restore the populations of hoiho and other taonga species. I want to thank community groups for their huge efforts to help hoiho conservation.

30 May 2020

Researchers go cuckoo: Antarctic penguins release an extreme amount of laughing gas

ANTARCTICA – In a new study, University of Copenhagen researchers showed that penguins in Antarctica give out copious amounts of nitrous oxide via their faeces – so much so, that the researchers went "cuckoo" from being surrounded by penguin poo.
On the Atlantic island of South Georgia, king penguins live in huge colonies. They spend their days eating krill, squid and fish, feeding their chicks and producing guano (poo). Nothing mind-boggling about that, you might say.

But there is something very special about the comings and goings of king penguins. The birds release tremendous amounts of nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas, via their guano, according to the 2019 study.

22 January 2020

New Magellanic penguin colony discovered in Argentina

ARGENTINA – Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers have announced the discovery of a new colony of Magellanic penguins on a remote island in Argentina.

A Magellanic penguin on Isla de los Estados.
Credit: Ulises Balza. 
The penguins were found on the eastern side of Isla de los Estados off the eastern tip of Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost end of the South American continent.

Researchers made the discovery while surveying a known colony of rockhopper penguins that they had been tracking by remote cameras for two years.

When the researchers eventually accessed an unexplored area of the rockhopper colony, they discovered the telltale nesting burrows of Magellanic penguins hidden in tall grasses.

15 December 2019

Study reveals whaling and climate change led to 100 years of feast or famine for Antarctic penguins

ANTARCTICA – New research reveals how penguins have dealt with more than a century of human impacts in Antarctica and why some species are winners or losers in this rapidly changing ecosystem.

A chinstrap penguin standing on snow near a
breeding colony along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Credit: Michael Polito © Louisiana State University
Michael Polito, assistant professor in Louisiana State University’s (LSU's) Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences and his co-authors published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Although remote, Antarctica has a long history of human impacts on its ecosystems and animals. By the early to mid-1900s, humans had hunted many of its seals and whales nearly to extinction. Seal and whale populations are now recovering, but decades of climate change and a growing commercial fishing industry have further degraded the environment,” Polito said.