Gentoo penguins in Antarctic winter, new study


This video says about itself:

Walk with Penguins in immersive 3D experience

19 April 2017

For the first time, you can instantly transport yourself to a sub-Antarctic penguin colony and immerse in the lives of Southern Rockhopper, King, Magellanic, and Gentoo Penguins. Watch in full HD as the penguins return from challenging journeys back to their colonies of fuzzy chicks.

Beautiful. Inspiring. Under threat.

Despite being loved the world over, penguins are the world’s second most threatened group of marine birds, with 10 of the 18 species threatened with extinction due to competition with fisheries, bycatch, marine pollution, disease, habitat disturbance and climate change.

The world’s largest nature conservation partnership, BirdLife International, has worked with London-based virtual reality and post-production specialist, Visualise, to create Walk with Penguins, an engaging 3D 360 short nature film used to connect audiences with penguin protection.

Urgent action is needed to better protect penguins, please visit here to show your support.

See also here.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office:

Time-lapse cameras provide a unique peek at penguins’ winter behavior

April 19, 2017

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.

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. 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 behavior.

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 behavior during the nonbreeding 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. They found both temporal and spatial factors driving winter attendance — for example, more Gentoo Penguins were present at breeding sites when there was open water or free-floating pack ice than when the shoreline was iced in, and more Gentoo Penguins were at breeding sites earlier in nonbreeding season than later.

The researchers deployed the cameras at seven sites including Argentina, Antarctica, and several islands. Each camera took eight to fourteen photos per day, and volunteer “citizen scientists” were recruited to count the penguins in each image via a website. Overall, the seven sites fell into three distinct groups in terms of winter attendance, each with its own patterns of site occupation. These findings could have important implications for understanding how localized disturbances due to climate change and fisheries activity affect penguin populations during the nonbreeding season.

“Working with cameras allows us to understand half of this species’ life without having to spend the harsh winter in Antarctica. It has been exciting to discover more about why Gentoos are present year-round at breeding sites without having to handle a single bird,” says Black. “I believe the applications for this technology are far-reaching for colonial seabirds and mammals, and we are only just beginning to discover the uses of time-lapse cameras as deployed virtual ecologists in field studies.”

“What most seabirds do away from their nest is often anybody’s guess. For Antarctic birds, this is compounded by the long periods of darkness that penguins and others must face in the winter,” adds Mark Hauber, Editor-in-Chief of The Auk: Ornithological Advances and Professor of Animal Behavior at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “This new research in The Auk: Ornithological Advances on Gentoo Penguins colonies reveals critical year-to-year differences in where the birds are when they are not nesting: In some years, only the most temperate sites are visited, and in other years both southerly and northerly locations are busy with penguins.”

Fossils may reveal 20-million-year history of penguins in Australia. Penguin history includes the ‘giant penguin,’ arrivals via multiple dispersals, extinctions: here.

Finding elusive emperor penguins: Both surveyors and satellites needed to study remote penguin populations: here.

Every penguin, ranked: which species are we most at risk of losing? Here.

Galapagos penguins in trouble


This 2014 video says about itself:

Abbi Helfer discusses how the behavior of the Galapagos penguin helps it to manage the equatorial heat.

From BirdLife:

11 Apr 2017

The penguin that paddles in paradise

No huddles please for the Galapagos Penguin; this tropical trooper calls the warm waters of the equator its home. But life in paradise is anything but a walk in the sun for the world’s rarest penguin…

By Alex Dale

If the concept of penguins frolicking on African beaches or waddling across New Zealand cityscapes blows your mind, then hold on to your flippers, because the reach of this remarkable family of birds extends much further north than that. Indeed, the northernmost-dwelling species of penguin has found a home on a sweltering tropical archipelago straddling the equator – about as far removed from popular imagery of penguins shivering on the South Pole as you’re likely to get.

We’re on the Galapagos – a chain of volcanic islands located 563 miles east of its parent country, Ecuador. The islands need no introduction to nature enthusiasts – their biodiversity and wealth of endemic species is the stuff of legend, and famously, the observations made by Charles Darwin when he visited the islands in the 19th century formed the backbone of his influential theories of evolution and natural selection.

And by rights, the Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus should be the poster child for evolution. Exactly how, thousands of years after they first washed up on these shores, has this diminutive penguin adapted to life in this most un-penguin-like of environments?

The answer: er, not without some difficulties. In order to survive in the scorching equatorial sun, Darwin’s theories have had to work overtime. Physically, the Galapagos Penguin has evolved to become smaller than most other penguins, a tactic that helps it keep cool, as animals with smaller surfaces areas can lose heat more efficiently.

It has also evolved to grow fewer feathers, and there are even patches of bare skin that help to radiate the sun’s heat away from its body. And at times when even these measures aren’t enough to cool down, you’ll find the penguins in their trademark pose, flippers outstretched to catch the cool sea breeze, panting like a dog. Take a closer look and you’ll see they take good care to hunch forward, shielding their feet from the baking sunlight.

The unique challenges of their island landscape has forced the Galapagos Penguin to change its breeding cycle as well as its build and its behaviour. It has become an opportunist. Instead of following strict breeding cycles like other species, the Galapagos Penguin couple for life and stay near their nesting sites all year round, ready and waiting for the chance to arise.

The species needs to remain open-minded about when to get down, because the availability of its food sources is completely at the mercy of the unpredictable ocean currents. Only when the sea temperature falls below a certain level, bringing with it a rise in nutrients (and subsequently small fish), will the penguins attempt to breed. It is testament to the resiliency of the penguin family that this tiny species has managed to carve out a niche for itself in such a seemingly alien environment.

Yet, it remains the rarest and most endangered of all the penguins, with an estimated population of just 1,200, and the main threat to their continued survival is a familiar one, one that evolution often struggles to keep pace with – human impact. Like fellow Endangered species Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi, the Galapagos Penguin’s restricted range means that just one single event could prove disastrous. 95% of the world’s Galapagos Penguins are confined to just two islands – Isabela and Fernandina.

This stronghold falls within the boundaries of Galapagos National Park, allowing authorities to effectively tackle local threats such as invasive species and human disturbance of breeding areas. But a bigger threat to the species’ future is something that can’t be weeded out by boots-on-the-ground conservationists: climate change.

The same unpredictable climate cycle that dictates the Galapagos Penguins’ breeding habits can, and does, wipe out huge swathes of the population. The phenomenon is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – an irregular variation in pressure that results in periodic rises and falls of the ocean surface temperature. So, just as the cooler periods bring a bumper crop of fish, so do too elongated periods of warmer temperature bring famine.

Such a happening from 1982-1983 resulted in the near-catastrophic loss of 77% of the entire penguin population, and another from 1997-1998 resulted in a crash of 66%. Both times, the penguin populations managed to rebound, but the recovery was slow and this is what worries conservationists on the island.

Dr. Gustavo Jiménez is senior researcher at the Charles Darwin Foundation, an NGO that has, since 1959, worked to provide scientific knowledge to aid the conservation of Galapagos’ wild-life. “The hypothesis is that the climate change is affecting natural processes such as El Niño”, he says. “If El Niño events come to the Galapagos more frequently, and stronger, it will not give the species time to recover.”

In order to better understand the long-term trends and prospects of the species, the Charles Darwin Foundation performs three annual monitoring exercises, tagging individuals and nests, and holds a census to compare year-on-year survival and mortality rates. Jiménez is clear on the consequences if El Niño’s effects are felt more frequently – the extinction of the species. But the solution is harder to pin down.

“Through research and information sharing, we hope we can show the impact of El Niño to politicians, and maybe they could change the vision in the future”, says Jiménez.

Fail to convince them, and it could finally be the end of this little penguin that, for all those years, has survived against all odds.

Saving African penguins


This 2012 video from South Africa is called African Penguins at Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

From BirdLife:

10 Apr 2017

Saving Africa’s only native penguin species

Africa’s only native penguin species is inching towards extinction due to local food shortages. Conservationists are now trying to reconnect penguin and prey.

Penguin: the word elicits images of snowy landscapes, icebergs and tightly huddled groups of penguins bracing the harshest of elements. One penguin species that bucks this cold climate trend is the hardy African Penguin Spheniscus demersus, found only on the south-western tip of Africa, in South Africa and Namibia. This species is adapted to warmer subtropical environments, often having to survive temperatures of over 30° C, likely never to see snow or ice.

The African Penguin population, once numbering in the millions, has been reduced to just 1% of its size in the 1900s. Historical egg collecting between 1900 and 1930 resulted in the removal of a staggering 13 million eggs from southern African islands. At the same time, the “white gold rush” for guano, harvested for fertiliser resulted in widespread habitat alteration.

In the space of just a few decades, the guano that had accumulated over thousands of years was removed. Instead of making well-insulated burrows in the guano, penguins are now forced to nest on the surface at most colonies, leaving eggs and chicks exposed to the elements and predation. By the time these two devastating practices were halted in the 1960s, the penguin population had been reduced to just 300,000 breeding birds.

Shortly thereafter a new threat appeared in the form of industrialised fishing for sardine – the African penguin‘s preferred prey. With the advent of new technologies, fish catches increased to never-before-seen levels. Just 20 years later, the sardine fishery had collapsed. Despite expectations that fishing would be forced to slow down, attentions instead shifted to the smaller, less profitable anchovy, the alternate prey available to the penguins.

Growing penguin chicks need a diet very high in lipids – something that sardine and anchovy provide. Not dissimilar to humans, research suggests that when seabird chicks are fed on lower quality “junk food”, they are slower to develop and can experience decreased cognitive ability, making it harder for the young birds to find food once they have fledged.

As if conditions for the penguins weren’t bad enough, in the 1990s the remaining sardine and anchovy fish shocks started shifting away from their areas of historical abundance. “Because breeding penguins are limited to a 40 km radius from attention-needing nests and chicks, the bulk of the fish have now shifted out of reach of the penguins”, explains Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager at BirdLife South Africa.

Scientists aren’t sure what has caused this shift in distribution but it is likely that both climate change and high levels of fishing on the west coast have played a part. To counter this change in distribution, a novel and innovative project was started to investigate whether new penguin colonies can be established in the areas of high fish abundance.

“Extinct colonies of seabirds have been re-established for flying seabirds, such as the Atlantic Puffin in Maine and several species of petrel from New Zealand, but it has only been attempted once for a penguin species, and never for African Penguins”, says Wanless.

“This project has the potential to increase the penguin population and provide “insurance” by increasing the number of colonies, reducing vulnerability to catastrophic events.” BirdLife South Africa, with the support of several other local and international organisations, has identified two sites at which to attempt the establishment of penguin colonies.

“We’ve decided first to re-establish a colony which started naturally in 2003 but was prevented from taking hold due to predation by terrestrial predators”, says Wanless. By setting up an effective predator-proof fence we plan to avoid that happening again.” Decoys and the playing of penguin calls will be used to attract birds in from sea and just-fledged chicks will be moved to the new areas to encourage them to return there to breed.

Once penguins start breeding in a colony they return there year after year – a trait which helps them find the same mate again – which is why young chicks need to be encouraged to breed at the new sites, before they chose somewhere else. “The aim of the new colonies is to assist penguins to move to these relatively new regions of high food availability.

While this process could occur naturally over several hundreds of years, we need to help it happen faster”, says Wanless. African Penguins also face a number of other threats, from predation to oil spills to the lack of nesting habitat, and there are conservation interventions in place to address these. Artificial nest boxes are provided to improve breeding success and rehabilitation centres have been set up to care for oiled and injured birds.

“But a lack of food remains the biggest challenge”, says Dr Taryn Morris, Coastal Seabirds Conservation Manager at BirdLife South Africa. “Our focus is on driving protection of their feeding grounds and working with fisheries and government to ensure the ecosystem needs are taken into account.”

The African Penguin is facing an uncertain future but there is a group of dedicated organisations and passionate individuals who are working to ensure the survival of the species. But by moving penguins closer to their food and trying to ensure there are more fish in the sea, we hope tip the balance in their favour.

Save penguins from extinction


This video says about itself:

1 March 2013

Penguin bloopers – It’s not easy being a penguin, as we soon learnt going through all the material shot for the BBC’s Penguins – Spy in the Huddle, narrated by David Tennant.

From BirdLife today:

Hello Friend,

As a friend of BirdLife International, I wanted to give you the track on a major new global campaign we launched today.

Shockingly, penguins are the second most threatened seabird, after the albatross. Ten of the 18 species are under real threat of extinction. We believe that a world without any of the rich variety of penguin species doesn’t bear contemplating, and are sure you feel the same.

We believe the time to act is now. Will you protect a penguin?

If we don’t act now, the consequences for penguins could be devastating:

  • They’re getting hungrier.  Depletion of food sources, either through overfishing or traditional prey shifting due to rising sea temperatures
  • They’re becoming homeless. Their traditional nesting grounds are no longer safe, leaving them vulnerable to invasive predators
  • They’re getting trapped.  Becoming entangled in fishing nets and drowning while foraging for food

With your support, we will broaden and intensify our work across the world in the following key areas:

  • Creating new colonies, like one in South Africa for the African Penguin, where food sources are more plentiful
  • Providing safe nesting locations for species such as the Yellow-eyed Penguin
  • Identifying and campaigning for the protection of the most important places at sea for penguins in Antarctica

We believe, with your help, that we can make a fundamental difference in the continuing story of these most precious of creatures. Join us, and protect a penguin now.

You can help us make the difference so we can make these precious creatures thrive.

Thank you for whatever you can give.

With best wishes,

Patricia Zurita
CEO, BirdLife International

See also here.

Antarctic Adélie penguins, new count


This video says about itself:

14 March 2017

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.

Read more about this here.

Saving penguins in Argentina


This video from Argentina says about itself:

The comeback of the Magellanic penguins

24 May 2016

During these months this Peninsula is home to birds that have adapted to green life better than anyone: the penguins.

From BirdLife:

Protecting the penguins of Patagonia

By Esteban Frere, 12 Dec 2016

“It is with some consternation that seabird biologists return to colonies they haven’t visited for many years. The hand of man has seen many colonies around the world dwindle or even vanish.” Fortunately, for some species a little conservation goes a long way.

Esteban Frere, South America Coordinator for BirdLife’s Marine Programme, started his career as a biologist by studying the Magellanic Penguin Spheniscus magellanicus. He recently returned to Patagonia to help survey some of the colonies there.

Magellanic penguins are probably not the penguins most people think of when they hear the word ‘penguin’. They may have the classic monochromatic colouration, but they have a splash of pink around the face.

Unlike the stereotypical picture, most nesting colonies are not surrounded by snow and ice – many are found in warmer climes, where the birds dig burrows for nests to protect themselves and their chicks from the direct sun. Like all penguins though, they have definite charm, and are masters of the ocean (if not the land).

Large-scale surveys of Patagonia’s penguins have not been conducted since the 1990s, when Fundación Patagonia Natural and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) carried out comprehensive surveys of the seabirds and marine mammals of the Patagonian coast.

Over the last two years, a group of Argentinean researchers from the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia Austral (supported by BirdLife International, WCS and Fundación Temaiken), have been surveying and assessing the population size of Magellanic penguin colonies along the southern coast of Argentine Patagonia in Santa Cruz province.

Most of these colonies have not been surveyed for almost 25 years, when some of the same researchers (once enthusiastic young seabird biologists….now enthusiastic, slightly older seabird biologists) participated in those early studies. …

It is with some consternation that seabird biologists return to colonies they haven’t visited for many years. The hand of man has seen many colonies around the world dwindle or even vanish – and this has happened within human lifetimes.

Indeed, in recent decades, many of the threats to penguins along the Patagonian coast have grown in importance – including fishery interactions (bycatch), climate change, habitat destruction – though others, like oil pollution, have declined. These changes are one of the reasons that it is so important to return to Patagonia and understand the trend of the penguin population.

Fortunately, my return to survey these colonies was a positive experience. Not only was great to spend time away from an office and among a bustling colony, but our preliminary results indicate that the Magellanic Penguin population in the extreme south of the Argentine Patagonia has remained stable, with numbers of breeding pairs very similar to those reported in the 90s.

This is a consequence of both luck and conservation action adopted by the government. Luck, because many penguin colonies are far from the big cities and access to them is difficult – so some of the issues of habitat destruction and disturbance facing colonies closer to human habitation are not so relevant here.

But at the same time, the national and provincial governments have created marine parks along the Argentinean coast and the community has lobbied for measures to reduce oil pollution at sea and human disturbance in the colonies. These conservation measures have surely helped to protect the Magellanic penguin colonies in the south of the country.

More work and effort is needed to minimize threats on the high seas, but the current situation looks like a good start. I hope my next trip to these colonies isn’t another 25 years in the waiting – and that the penguins there continue to benefit from conservation efforts.

The use of measures to prevent seabird bycatch deaths has just been approved by the Argentinean government—a decision that will save the lives of thousands of seabirds: here.

Crested penguin eggs, new research


This video says about itself:

20 April 2011

These are Erect-Crested Penguins on Antipodes Island, New Zealand. This video was taken by David Salomon from an inflatable Zodiac boat.

From Science News:

Why crested penguins lay mismatched eggs

Extreme penguin egg favoritism could be quirk of migration

By Susan Milius

11:00am, December 8, 2016

In crested penguin families, moms heavily favor offspring No. 2 from the start, and a new analysis proposes why. The six or seven species of crested (Eudyptes) penguins practice the most extreme egg favoritism known among birds, says Glenn Crossin of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Females that lay two eggs produce a runty first egg weighing 18 to 57 percent less than the second, with some of the greatest mismatches among erect-crested and macaroni penguins. Some Eudyptes species don’t even incubate the first egg; royal penguins occasionally push it out of the nest entirely.

Biologists have proposed benefits for the unusual behavior: A sacrificial first egg might mark a claim to a nesting spot or improve chances of one chick surviving predators. But those ideas haven’t held up, Crossin says. He and Tony Williams of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, propose in the Oct. 12 Proceedings of the Royal Society B that egg favoritism is just a downside of an open-water, migratory lifestyle.

Among the 16 penguin species that lay two eggs, only the Eudyptes species evolved what’s called a pelagic life, spending their nonbreeding season mostly at sea and migrating, in some cases considerable distances, to breeding sites.

Female crested penguins tend to lay their first eggs soon after arriving at a breeding site, meaning that the egg must have started its roughly 16-day development while mom was migrating. The biology of long swims, now encoded genetically, interferes with producing a full-sized egg. A puny first egg might just be a sign that mom is trying to do two things at once, Crossin says.