New Zealand rainforest penguins


This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Unravelling the secret (marine) life of the Fiordland penguin

31 May 2017

Our first video, choker full of info on Fiordland penguins – what we know about them (not a lot) and what the Tawaki Project aims at learning about the species. Consider it a kind of an origin story.

From BirdLife:

4 July 2017

Penguins of the remote rainforest

Grab a kayak, hiking boots and become an expert at crawling through rocks if you want to discover New Zealand‘s hidden Fiordland Penguins, or “tawaki”. But why are they going hungry?

By Shaun Hurrell

There’s a saying that says biting insects exist to protect beautiful places from humans. In Fiordland, which forms the remote and rugged southwest of the South Island, this almost rings true, wherein hides mainland New Zealand’s hidden rainforest penguins. “Most New Zealanders wouldn’t recognise a tawaki as a native species”, says Thomas Mattern, researcher at Otago University, and penguin specialist part of The Tawaki Project.

Despite striking yellow feathers above their eyes, Fiordland Penguins Eudyptes pachyrhynchus are hard to see. Named after a Maori god that walked the earth, Tawaki, they are actually quite a timid species and live in small scattered colonies in the steep and water-weathered forests of New Zealand’s fiords, a place only accessible by water or multi-day treks through clouds of irritating biting sandflies. Whilst thousands of tourists brave bad weather for boat trips into these stunning landscapes, the plight of the tawakiis not well known. On Stewart Island too, they do not want to be found, shrouding themselves in very dense vegetation, rock crevices and even sea caves only accessible underwater. With a range that has retreated since the arrival of humans, you can see why they might be so timid.

“We are only beginning to understand the threats tawaki face”

“To date, little is known about their ecology”, says Thomas. He, together with Robin Long – who works as a ranger for the West Coast Penguin Trust and grew up in this remote environment – are now experts at crawling between jagged rocks and kayaking through rain-splattered fiords to find these 55 cm tall penguins, as part of the Tawaki Project, to learn more of their breeding and foraging success by using camera traps on nests and fitting waterproof GPS tags. Last summer, El Niño hit the penguins hard: data loggers revealed some tawaki heading 100 km out to sea to search for food. “A lot of chicks died of starvation”, says Thomas. “We found some with just sticks and mud in their stomachs.”

Unfortunately, most crested penguin populations have been declining during the last century, and tawaki do not seem to be an exception, listed by BirdLife as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The population is estimated to range between 5,500 and 7,000 birds, and at some sites their numbers are believed to have declined by as much as 30% in just ten years. Whilst sandflies help keep some humans away, human-introduced stoats trigger cameras as they prey on penguin eggs and chicks. Also, rising ocean temperatures probably disrupt prey availability, fisheries may compete for resources or result in accidental bycatch, and pollution from oil exploration could also become a major problem for these birds. Funding for more research is key: “We are only beginning to understand the threats tawaki face”, says Robin. “We need to know a lot more to come up with effective ways to protect the species.”

Read more about the penguins of New Zealand.

New Zealand penguins


This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Why are penguins black and white?

23 June 2017

So, all penguins are, for the most part, black and white. But why is that? Has it something to do with blending into the environment or is it perhaps something entirely different?

From BirdLife:

3 July 2017

The Little People of Sea Land

Tucked away in rainforests, rocky crevices or under parked cars, these hidden (and not-so-well-hidden) birds are having a rough ride. Welcome to New Zealand, home to one third of the world’s penguins

By Shaun Hurrell

Car tyres rumble on tarmac. Ferries blast their horns. The smell of roasted coffee lingers and small waves carve into concrete harbour walls. Whilst only a stone’s throw from the lush native bush and outdoor adventure that New Zealand is often famed for, Wellington, on North Island’s southern tip, is very much a city, and its busy streets are home to over 400,000 people. Why is it then that a seabird with flippers is sheltering under a car at the water’s edge?

No, it is not an escapee from a zoo, disorientated by passing headlights. This is actually its home too, and as dusk arrives, strange noises can be heard from between rocks as more of these creatures raucously call out for a mate.

Yes, they are penguins. In a capital city. In the same place where people stroll their dogs along the breezy sea wall, penguins come ashore to find a place to nest; a far cry from Antarctica’s icebergs and the crashing southern oceanic waves where you’d expect to find the world’s famously cute black-and-white aquatic birds. Oh, and in Wellington, the penguins happen to be blue too…

New Zealand coastlines and islands harbour no less than six of the world’s 18 penguin species, and 13 species in total have turned up in the New Zealand region (including the Ross Dependency of Antarctica) – more than any other country. New Zealand is, in theory, a global penguin sanctuary. With a bespoke governmental Department of Conservation (DOC) holding 30% of the green and diverse land for protection and recreation, you could be lulled into a false sense of security. But this wasn’t always the case: human arrival on the islands 700 years ago set into motion a downward trend for penguins. And while now DOC does make a big difference with invasive predator control and disturbance management, the agency receives less than half a per cent of the government’s annual budget. Despite the best efforts from those involved, penguins are far from safe, on land or at sea.

Accustomed to close urban encounters with Little “Blue” Penguins, and with one of the rarest penguins adorning their $5 note, you could be forgiven for thinking that New Zealanders are all penguin conservation experts. But there is another side to the story: one of penguins hidden by rainforests and dangers masked by the ocean’s foreboding surface.

What’s black and white and red all over?

Not a penguin with sunburn, but a penguin listed as threatened on the Red List, and it’s not funny. Some penguins might be hard to reach, but the dangers to the second-most threatened seabird group are becoming clear. New Zealand’s sunny shores and seas need much attention if they are to safeguard its two Endangered (Yellow-eyed and Erect-crested), and three Vulnerable species (Fiordland, Southern Rockhopper and Snares).

It all started with the arrival of humans in the thirteenth century. From early exploitation for food by Polynesian settlers, to clearance of breeding habitat and the introduction of mammalian predators, whether deliberately or accidentally, humans quickly meant bad news for penguin populations on New Zealand’s islands. “Waitaha Penguin” (potentially related to Yellow-eyed) was discovered through analysis of subfossil bones in 2008, and is thought to have been extirpated by early Polynesian settlers; while as late as the nineteenth century, the “Chatham Penguin” (potentially another crested species) went extinct on the Chatham Islands, shortly after Europeans arrived there.

This gung-ho entrepreneur’s team clubbed over three million penguins to death in thirty years

One of the earliest ever international conservation campaigns began because of – not thanks to – one New Zealander, Joseph Hatch. In the early 20th Century, this gung-ho entrepreneur and former Mayor of Invercargill began a commercial project which nearly wiped out an entire colony of King Penguins on Macquarie Island (to Australia). His team clubbed over three million penguins to death in thirty years and built big, metal “steam-pressure digesters” with which to reduce these fantastic birds to nothing but oil. Thankfully, international scientists and polar explorers objected and the oiling industry was halted before utter destruction. Today, although not as blatant as the threat of Hatch’s clubs, the threats to New Zealand’s penguins are no less severe and warrant an inspired new global campaign to save them.

Between sea and land, home or graveyard

“Penguins cannot range far from their nesting sites while foraging to feed their chicks, so require abundant food near to the coast”, says Karen Baird, Seabird Advocate for Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand). “Both direct and indirect impacts from fishing are a threat to penguins’ food supply, exacerbated by environmental changes from a warming planet.” Of all New Zealand’s penguins, only Snares seems to have a stable food supply, but that doesn’t mean it is not threatened – there is an ever-ominous danger of a rat invasion, plus potential for oil exploration and fisheries bycatch because there is no official marine protection for the tiny 3.5 km2 subantarctic island group this species is restricted to. “Bycatch” – accidental capture or collision with fishing gear – affects many penguin species (and other seabirds).

“Time is not on our side”, says Karen. “We need to reduce the impacts we know are occurring to penguins now, as climate change impacts are set to make everything that much worse.” The response required is multi-faceted: better management of land-based impacts, and vital protection at sea both to prevent bycatch and to preserve foraging habitat. “We need a coordinated approach to protect penguins”, says Karen. “Establishing a Penguin Recovery Group administered by DOC is also a priority.” But the foundation work needs more support: “We also need to undertake penguin surveys to determine population trends, more ‘Places for Penguins’ management and support for vital research to underpin the management decisions that will make a difference for these special birds.”

“We need to reduce known threats to penguins now, before climate change impacts make everything that much worse”

As well as launching a global campaign to put penguin conservation in the spotlight and raise vital funds, BirdLife is researching penguin bycatch further and calls for more observers on board New Zealand vessels. Meanwhile, Forest & Bird is also heavily advocating for large Marine Protected Areas for the east and southeast coastlines, but more reserves are needed elsewhere. “I want a future where New Zealand is a wild penguin sanctuary”, says Karen.

In Wellington city, a local walker sees a group of Little Penguins emerge from the water’s edge like a cauldron of bubbling blue oil and hurriedly stumble up the harbour rocks, back from a marathon day trip foraging. She smiles, watching them walk like little humans. She puts her dog on its lead and “tweets” a photo of a penguin preening its feathers, but she seems troubled as she gazes out to the dark ocean, imagining the gauntlet of threats this Little Blue faces out there.

Little Blue neighbours. They can be found nesting on people’s doorsteps, or quite literally underneath them. Meet the world’s smallest penguins, unwillingly urban birds who are being given new homes by local volunteers: here.

Work by Forest & Bird on land is helping the Yellow-eyed Penguin, but threats at sea are very worrying: here.

African penguin news on World Oceans Day


This video from South Africa says about itself:

African Penguins colony at Boulders Beach, Table Mountain National Park filmed by Paul and Linsey Brown in September 2012.

Recorded on Panasonic HX-WA10 Palmcorder; Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 Compact Camera and GoPro HD2. Edited using Final Cut Pro X.

From BirdLife:

Hello Friend,

Today, on World Oceans Day, we wanted to share some exciting news about the release of five rehabilitated ‘Endangered’ African Penguins from a safe area in Plettenburg Bay this Saturday, 10th June.

BirdLife, with BirdLife South Africa and other organisations, is leading on an ambitious plan to start a new mainland penguin breeding colony in Plettenberg Bay. It was decided that rehabilitated penguins should be released from Plettenberg Bay as a part of this process.

Please will you help us protect penguins by making a donation?

Adult and juvenile penguins are often seen in the waters around Plettenberg Bay, but are occasionally found injured, sick or moulting where they are vulnerable to predators. Over the last four months, the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has rescued five penguins: two with injuries, one with avian malaria and two who were moulting. The penguins have recovered well and are ready to be returned to the ocean.

They will be released at Lookout Beach in Plettenberg Bay this Saturday to celebrate World Oceans Day. This area has been chosen for its plentiful stocks of sardines and anchovies, which is perfect for these birds.

We are still working hard to protect all penguin species – and would be so grateful if you would support us by protecting a penguin now. With your help we can continue creating positive stories like this for penguins across the Southern Hemisphere.

This work is only possible with the support of people like you. Thank you.

Best wishes,

Maggie Balaskas
Penguins Campaign Coordinator, BirdLife International

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

Emperor penguin chicks video


This video says about itself:

[Emperor] Penguin Chicks Struggle To Survive – Planet Earth – BBC Earth

22 May 2017

The urge for Penguins to parent their chicks is incredibly strong, and in this footage we are given a wonderful insight into the role both parents play in raising their young. Braving the severe conditions of Antarctica poses a huge obstacle, so if the chicks are to survive until summer it will be thanks to the extraordinary hardships endured by their parents.

Film March of the Penguins 2, review


This December 2016 video is the French language trailer of the new film by Luc Jacquet, L’Empereur. In English March of the Penguins 2: The Call. It is a sequel to the earlier March of the Penguins documentary.

On 21 May 2017, I went to see this film about the life of emperor penguins in Antarctica.

The film concentrates on one penguin couple in an emperor nesting colony. They fall in love (for birds it is important that their partner is their own choice, not ‘arranged’ like often with caged birds, according to recent research). They have an elaborate mating dance, which makes it easier for them to recognize each other later among the thousands of penguins in the colony.

After the female lays an egg, she has to transfer it to the male’s feet to keep it warm. Then, the egg has to roll across the ice. If that takes too long, the cold may kill the embryo. Then, the hungry female leaves for months to feed in the ocean, which she reaches after a long and arduous walk. The male meanwhile tries to keep the egg alive; not easy during winter storms.

Then, a baby penguin is born. Its father does not have much food for it. Everything depends on the return in time of the mother. When she arrives, the father will transfer the baby to the mother’s feet for keeping it warm. Like transferring eggs, this is risky: the vulnerable young penguin should not be on the ice for the transfer for too long.

Now, the hungry father can leave to the ocean to feed, and find food for the baby. He sometimes, to get there, has to walk scores of kilometers, sometimes a hundred (depending on ice extent), across difficult areas with steep slopes, pointed rocks and fracturing ice. Later, the young penguin becomes so big, needing more food, that both parents have to go to the ocean together, instead of one staying with the youngster.

Finally, the emperor penguin son will have to walk to the sea himself. First, his mother leaves. He follows his father for a few miles; then, he is in a group of young penguins all wanting to go the ocean they have never seen.

The film has spectacular views of the penguins swimming underwater, up to 600 meter deep.

There are not many other Antarctic animals in the film. No whales (most not dangerous, but killer whales are a danger to swimming penguins). No seals (leopard seals are a danger to swimming penguins). A fleeting view of a snow petrel flying past (not named). The bigger relative of the snow petrel, the giant petrel is named and shown trying to catch a young penguin; which fails. The only other penguin species nesting as far south as emperor penguins, the smaller Adelie penguin, is shown a few times, including in a quarrel on the coast with young emperor penguins hesitating whether they will swim in the ocean for the first time ever.

The film does not go into how climate change may damage emperor penguins, except in its last sentence, saying that emperor penguins have lived for millions of years, and will continue for millions more ‘if we [humans] behave ourselves’. Maybe a bit surprising, such a short mention, as director Luc Jacquet in 2015 made the film La glace et le ciel (English: Ice and the Sky) about global warming, focusing on French Antarctic researcher Claude Lorius.
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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.