New emperor penguin colonies discovered

This video is called Emperor penguins – The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth – BBC.

By on Birding / Wild Birds:

New Penguin Colonies Located

November 24, 2012

Penguin lovers have reason to be thankful this month with the discovery of two new emperor penguin breeding sites. According to ScienceDaily, the two colonies in Antarctica are home to 6,000 previously unknown chicks, which effectively triples the number of breeding emperor penguins believed to be in the area.

Emperor penguins are colonial nesters that breed in tremendous flocks, returning to the same nesting site year after year. When Antarctic ice changes disrupt those colonies, the birds can struggle to breed safely. In 2010 a large glacier fractured, and it was feared that emperor penguin numbers would drastically decline as a result.

Want to add the emperor penguin to your life list? Learn where in the world you can see penguins!

Emperor penguins Aptenodytes forsteri are able to survive the harsh Antarctic climate because of specialized anatomical, physiological and behavioural adaptations for minimizing heat loss: here.

Emperor Penguins: Encounters in the Antarctic Wilderness: here.

Tallest penguin discovery in Antarctica

This video is called Giant Penguin Fossil Reconstructed in New Zealand.

From AFP news agency today:

Giant penguin fossils found in Antarctica

7 hours ago

BUENOS AIRES — Argentine experts have discovered the fossils of a two-meter (6.5 foot) tall penguin that lived in Antarctica 34 million years ago.

Paleontologists with the Natural Sciences Museum of La Plata province, where the capital Buenos Aires is located, said the remains were found on the icy southern continent.

“This is the largest penguin known to date in terms of height and body mass,” said researcher Carolina Acosta, who noted that the record had been held by emperor penguins, which reach heights of 1.2 meters (4 feet) tall.

Lead researcher Marcelo Reguero added that the find, announced Tuesday, will “allow for a more intensive and complex study of the ancestors of modern penguins.”

In its next expedition to Antarctica, during the region’s summer, the team will seek additional fossils of the newly discovered species, as well as information about its anatomy and how the giant penguin might have moved.

Previous finds from prehistoric penguins indicated they did not sport the iconic black and white feathers the birds are known for today, but had reddish-brown and gray plumage.

Antarctic prehistoric bird tracks discovered

This video is called Antarctic Fossils Paint a Picture of a Much Warmer Continent.

From Antarctic Science:

New Avian tracks from the lower to middle Eocene at Fossil Hill, King George Island, Antarctica


Trace fossils are long known to exist in the Fossil Hill Formation (lower to middle Eocene) at Fildes Peninsula, King George Island, Antarctica. During fieldwork in 2009, abundant new avian tracks were recovered, which are analysed here. Three avian ichnotaxa are distinguished. The most common impressions are tridactyls and tetradactyls with slender digit imprints II–IV and a posterior hallux. They are included in the ichnogenus Gruipeda.

In addition tridactyl and tetradactyl footprints with short and thick digit impressions are conferred to Uhangrichnus. The third ichnotaxon is a tridactyl impression with broad and short digits assigned to Avipeda. The latter taxon is here documented for the first time from Antarctica. These avian tracks are preserved in volcaniclastic sediments consisting in reddish-brown layers of mudstone intercalated with coarse sandstone. The sequence represents lacustrine environments which seasonally dried and were episodically refilled.

In early 1995, I led a Greenpeace expedition to Antarctica during which, among other things, we stopped off at King George Island, in the South Shetland Islands just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, to pay an official but cordial visit to some of the bases there: here.

More emperor penguins discovered

This video is called Emperor penguins – The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth – BBC.

From Wildlife Extra:

Satellite images reveal twice as many Emperor penguins as were known to exist

Scientists count penguins from space

April 2012. A new study using satellite mapping technology reveals there are twice as many Emperor penguins 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.

Very High Resolution imagery

Reporting this week in the journal PLoS ONE, an international team of scientists describe how they used Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images to estimate the number of penguins at each colony around the coastline of Antarctica. Using a technique known as pan-sharpening to increase the resolution of the satellite imagery, the science teams were able to differentiate between birds, ice, shadow and penguin poo (guano). They then used ground counts and aerial photography to calibrate the analysis. These birds breed 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).

595,000 Emperor penguins

Lead author and geographer Peter Fretwell at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) which is funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) explains, “We are delighted to be able to locate and identify such a large number of Emperor penguins. We counted 595,000 birds, which is almost double the previous estimates of 270,000 – 350,000 birds. This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space.”

44 colonies, including 7 new colonies

On the ice, Emperor penguins with their black and white plumage stand out against the snow and colonies are clearly visible on satellite imagery. This allowed the team to analyse 44 Emperor penguin colonies around the coast of Antarctica, with seven previously unknown.

“The methods we used are an enormous step forward in Antarctic ecology because we can conduct research safely and efficiently with little environmental impact, and determine estimates of an entire penguin population, said co-author Michelle LaRue from the University of Minnesota and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. “The implications of this study are far-reaching: we now have a cost-effective way to apply our methods to other poorly-understood species in the Antarctic, to strengthen on-going field research, and to provide accurate information for international conservation efforts.”

BAS biologist Dr Phil Trathan, and co-author, noted, “Current research suggests that Emperor penguin colonies will be seriously affected by climate change. An accurate continent-wide census that can be easily repeated on a regular basis will help us monitor more accurately the impacts of future change on this iconic species.”

Loss of sea ice

Scientists are concerned that in some regions of Antarctica, earlier spring warming is leading to loss of sea ice habitat for Emperor penguins, making their northerly colonies more vulnerable to further climate change.

Dr Trathan continued, “Whilst current research leads us to expect important declines in the number of Emperor penguins over the next century, the effects of warming around Antarctica are regional and uneven. In the future we anticipate that the more southerly colonies should remain, making these important sites for further research and protection.”

This research is a collaboration between British Antarctic Survey, University of Minnesota/National Science Foundation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Australian Antarctic Division.

See also here. And here.

April 2012. Sixteen “hidden” cameras planted by scientists have survived some of the planet’s harshest winter conditions to capture the annual activities of penguin colonies in Antarctica: here.

Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves: here.

Warm Currents Threaten to Expand Antarctic Melting: here.

On a 1910–1913 Antarctic expedition, surgeon and zoologist George Levick bore witness to some surprising sexual behaviors of Adélie penguins, including coerced sex and necrophilia. In fact, the paper he wrote on the penguins’ sexual habits was considered too explicit to be published during the Edwardian era, and has only recently been rediscovered after spending almost a century hidden away in the Natural History Museum at Tring: here.

Researchers from the Natural History Museum in Madrid, who have been working in the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, have discovered that the population of chinstrap penguins there has declined by more than a third in the last 20 years: here.

British Conservative attack on conservation

This video is called Scott of the Antarctic profile with Sir Ranuph Fiennes.

See also about Scott’s infamous Terra Nova expedition.

From weekly The Observer in Britain:

Wildlife legacy of Captain Scott in danger from chancellor’s bid to tear up habitat protections

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust invokes memory of explorer and his son Peter Scott in attack on George Osborne‘s plan to open countryside to industry

Robin McKie, science editor

Sunday 25 March 2012

The head of one of the country’s most important wildlife organisations has warned that changes in planning regulations, to be outlined by the government this week, could devastate the country’s fragile natural reserves.

Martin Spray, chief executive of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, used the 100th anniversary of the organisation’s genesis to attack the policies of the chancellor, George Osborne, who wants to weaken rules that protect wildlife habitats from industrial development.

The timing of Spray’s attack is specific. The trust traces its foundation to the last letter written by Captain Robert Falcon Scott as he lay dying in his tent in Antarctica in March 1912. Spray said: “In his letter, Scott urged his wife to take care of their son Peter and ‘to make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games’.

“Those words had a fantastic impact. Peter Scott went on to found our trust, help establish the World Wildlife Fund, and lay down key international conventions that protect habitats and wildlife. For good measure, he was a gifted wildlife painter and a wonderful communicator about nature. He completely changed the way we thought about the environment.”

But now Scott’s legacy is threatened by Osborne, who wants to ensure environmental regulations no longer impair economic growth in any way, a prospect that exposes WWT reserves to threats such as the construction of a barrage in the Severn estuary and an airport in the Thames estuary.

Last year Osborne set up a government review of how EU directives on habitats and birds are being applied in England. Osborne also played a key role in the instigation of a white paper on planning which is to be announced on Tuesday. It is widely expected that it will recommend considerable weakening of environmental regulations in order to open the countryside to development.

The timing could not be worse, said Spray, who described Osborne’s proposals as the work of a “naive and ill-informed” person. The day after publication of the white paper on planning rules, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust will convene at the London Wetland Centre to commemorate Captain Scott and his son. Sir Peter Scott not only created the trust but became the nation’s first nature broadcaster with his TV series Look, running from 1955 to 1981.

Falcon Scott, Captain Scott‘s grandson, will attend and announce a series of initiatives aimed at ensuring future generations remain interested in protecting the environment. “My grandfather became very interested in scientific issues during his last expedition to the south pole,” he told the Observer.

“When he wrote his last letter, he asked my grandmother Kathleen to make my father [Peter] interested in natural history. She took that request very seriously and certainly succeeded. Thanks to that letter, and to her, we now have the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the WWF and all the other things my father helped set up.”

David Attenborough once claimed: “If conservation was ever to have a patron saint, it would be Peter Scott.”

Spray agreed: “Peter Scott was a very brave man – he served on destroyers in the Atlantic during the war and won the Distinguished Service Cross. He won a bronze medal for sailing at the Berlin Olympics and was a British gliding champion. But most of all he was an inspirational leader. He understood that the best way to protect wildlife was to get the public interested in it.

“In the 1950s, wildlife organisations were simply throwing barbed wire round refuges to protect them. Sir Peter realised that was wrong. He opened his first reserve at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire and encouraged the public to come in and look at the birds there. He stimulated a whole generation of people to be interested in nature.

“It is a tragedy, then, that in the very week we honour his work and the work of his father, this government is set to announce measures that will only help to dismantle their great legacy and damage our natural environment, the most precious resource we have in Britain.”

March 2012. The tranquillity of the waters around the Bird sanctuary at Weir Wood Reservoir in East Sussex, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, could be shattered if planning for a Corporate Entertainment Clay Pigeon/Air Rifle/Archery range is permitted. As part of the Corporate Activity package, the Council received a planning application for erection of Timber Buildings/pavilion for entertaining and a clay pigeon shooting range ,open between 9am and 6pm including weekends and Bank Holidays about 300m from a bird hide and overlooking the bird sanctuary at the western end of Weir Wood reservoir: here.

Wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula

This video is called Antarctica Expedition and Wildlife 2.

The Antarctic Peninsula, from the Drake Passage to Palmer Station, and as far south as Charcot Island, has much intereresting wildlife and scenery.

Like Adelie penguins, humpback whales, icebergs, glaciers, and elephant seals.

By James Lowen:

In the first instalment of this photo essay, I set out the seabirds and marine mammals that Antarctic tourists should look for as they steam from the southern tip of South America to the hallowed continent of Antarctica. The area is the subject of a new visitor’s guide, A visitor’s guide to the wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage and Beagle Channel, a fundraiser for BirdLife International’s Save the Albatross campaign.

Towards the end of the second day at sea, the first iceberg of the trip heralds the arrival of your Antarctic cruise ship at the South Shetland Islands or the Antarctic Peninsula itself. If you are very lucky, the iceberg might be covered with thousands of penguins.

Emperor penguins: here.

Albatrosses: here.

Humans apparently aren’t the only animals with a feminist movement. Female elephant seals from the South African sub-Antarctic Marion Island colony are protesting the system of hierarchy in their world the only way they know how — by taking to the water: here.

Southern elephant seals: here.

Antarctic lake bacteria discoveries

This video is called Motile Antarctic cyanobacterium.

A video which used to be on the Internet used to say about itself:

In November 2008, an international team of distinguished scientists, educators and explorers embarked on a six week expedition to Antarctica. Their primary mission was to study the icy ecosystems of the Schirmacher Oasis and the perennially ice-covered Lake Untersee.

In this exceptionally hostile environment, the team hoped to find a new species of “extremophile” – a hardy life form that exists and flourishes in conditions inhospitable to most known organisms.

These discoveries could shed light on how life adapts to extremes on Earth – but could also shake the search for life on other planets.

From Discovery News:

Antarctic Lake Hides Bizarre Ecosystem

Bacterial colonies form cones like those on early Earth

Thu Apr 14, 2011 11:46 AM ET
Content provided by Alexandra Witze


East Antarctica’s Lake Untersee is home to 1.5 foot-high stromatolites that may be thousands of years old.
The mounds are similar to fossil formations of early life on Earth.

In the eerie bluish-purple depths of an Antarctic lake, scientists have discovered otherworldly mounds that tell tales of the planet’s early days.

Bacteria slowly built the mounds, known as stromatolites, layer by layer on the lake bottom. The lumps, which look like over-sized traffic cones, resemble similar structures that first appeared billions of years ago and remain in fossil form as one of the oldest widespread records of ancient life. The Antarctic discovery could thus help scientists better understand the conditions under which primitive life-forms thrived. “It’s like going back to early Earth,” says Dawn Sumner, a geobiologist at the University of California, Davis.

Sumner and her colleagues, led by Dale Andersen of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., describe the discovery in an upcoming issue of Geobiology. “These are just incredibly beautiful microbial landscapes,” she says.

Researchers have probed many Antarctic lakes to study the weird and wonderful microbes that live there; Andersen alone has dived into at least eight such lakes. But he says the discovery of the stromatolites rocketed East Antarctica’s Lake Untersee “to the top of my list.”

Researchers study fossil stromatolites, from 3 billion years ago or more, to understand how life got a foothold on Earth. Today, stromatolites actively form in only a few spots in the ocean, like off the western coast of Australia and in the Bahamas. They also grow in some freshwater environments, like super-salty lakes high in the Andes and in a few of Antarctica’s other freshwater lakes. But scientists have never seen anything like the size and shape of Untersee’s stromatolites.

Drawn by its extremely alkaline waters and high amounts of dissolved methane, Andersen and his colleagues traveled to Untersee in 2008 to drill through its permanent ice cover and collect water samples.

Andersen was used to finding mats of bacterial growth in other Antarctic lakes, but nothing like the big mounds he saw when he dived under the ice at Untersee. Up to half a meter high, these purplish piles studded the lake’s bottom like barnacles clinging to a ship hull. “It totally blew us away,” Andersen says. “We had never seen anything like that.”

Samples of one of the mounds showed that it was made mostly of long, stringy cyanobacteria, ancient photosynthetic organisms. The bacteria may take decades to build each layer in Untersee’s frigid waters, Sumner says, so the mounds may have taken thousands of years to accumulate.

Oddly, the stromatolite mounds sat next to smaller, pinnacle-shaped lumps that researchers had seen in many other lakes. And the stromatolites were made mostly of Phormidium bacteria, while the pinnacles were made of another group, Leptolyngbya.

To Sumner, that sharp distinction between bacterial composition on different shaped lumps says something significant about Untersee. “Everywhere else that we’ve looked you have a gradation between the structures,” like in bacterial mats sprawling around Yellowstone’s hot springs, she says. “There’s something very special about this particular example that’s allowing these large conical stromatolites to form.”

But scientists aren’t sure yet what that something special is. Andersen’s team has recently studied two other ice-covered Antarctic lakes, Vanda and Joyce, without finding large conical stromatolites there. Conditions vary from lake to lake, making each of them unique in their own frigid way; Lake Vanda, for instance, has a more transparent ice cover that lets more light penetrate. Lake Joyce has thicker ice, which constrains how far down photosynthesizing organisms can grow.

Understanding what makes Untersee different would help scientists better figure out the limits on life, both today and in the long-distant past. “It’s a real challenge to our understanding of how these communities developed,” says Ian Hawes, a polar limnologist at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

More answers should come this November, when Andersen’s team is scheduled to return to Untersee to scrape up more samples of the ghostly blue mounds.

Antarctica’s Don Juan Pond stays liquid in one of the unlikeliest places on Earth, the frigid McMurdo Dry Valleys. The pond is the saltiest body of water on Earth, eight times brinier than the Dead Sea. The secret to how the pond stays moist and salty suggests the possibility of water flowing on the face of Mars: here.

The first appearance and establishment of an alien vascular plant in natural habitats on the forefield of a retreating glacier in Antarctica: here.

Scientists: Ancient Microbes Found In Salty, Ice-Sealed Antarctic Lake; ‘New Boundary Conditions On The Limits For Life’: here.

April 2011: Sea stars as big as hubcaps, colourful sponges and feathery sea pens have been revealed after nearly 80 years in dark Antarctic waters: here.

Scientists believe Antarctic ozone hole on the mend (ScienceNews): here.

Greenland, Antarctic ice sheets melting faster than predicted: here.

Origin of Photosynthesis Revealed: Genome Analysis of ‘Living Fossil’ Sheds Light On the Evolution of Plants. ScienceDaily (Feb. 21, 2012) — Atmospheric oxygen really took off on our planet about 2.4 billion years ago during the Great Oxygenation Event. At this key juncture of our planet’s evolution, species had either to learn to cope with this poison that was produced by photosynthesizing cyanobacteria or they went extinct. It now seems strange to think that the gas that sustains much of modern life had such a distasteful beginning: here.

Found: Microbes From the Dinosaur Age
: here.