Big prehistoric penguin-like seabirds, new research


This 29 June 2020 video says about itself:

Five-foot-tall penguin-like birds that roamed the Northern Hemisphere 37 million years ago had ‘doppelgangers’ in New Zealand, bone fossils suggest.

Plotopterids, an extinct family of flightless seabirds, had strikingly similar bone fragments to the ‘monster penguins’ that lived in New Zealand more than 60 million years ago. Although they existed at different times, both types of ‘megafauna’ had long beaks with slit-like nostrils, and similar chest and shoulder bones and wing structures.

This suggests they were both strong swimmers that used their wings to propel themselves deep underwater in search of food. Kiwi biologists say the similarity can help explain how birds such as today’s penguins developed the ability to swim with their wings and became less competent flyers. Plotopterids like Copepteryx, which were endemic to Japan around 25 million years ago, looked remarkably like penguins.

From the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand:

New Zealand’s ancient monster penguins had northern hemisphere doppelgangers

June 30, 2020

New Zealand’s monster penguins that lived 62 million years ago had doppelgangers in Japan, the USA and Canada, a study published today in the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research has found.

Scientists have identified striking similarities between the penguins’ fossilised bones and those of a group of much younger Northern Hemisphere birds, the plotopterids.

These similarities suggest plotopterids and ancient penguins looked very similar and might help scientists understand how birds started using their wings to swim instead of fly.

Around 62 million years ago, the earliest known penguins swam in tropical seas that almost submerged the land that is now New Zealand. Palaeontologists have found the fossilised bones of these ancient waddlers at Waipara, North Canterbury. They have identified nine different species, ranging in size from small penguins, the size of today’s Yellow-Eyed Penguin, to 1.6 metre-high monsters.

Plotopterids developed in the Northern Hemisphere much later than penguins, with the first species appearing between 37 and 34 million years ago. Their fossils have been found at a number of sites in North America and Japan. Like penguins, they used their flipper-like wings to swim through the sea. Unlike penguins, which have survived into the modern era, the last plotopterid species became extinct around 25 million years ago.

The scientists — Dr Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Frankfurt; James Goedert of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and University of Washington, USA; and Canterbury Museum Curators Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri — compared the fossilised bones of plotopterids with fossil specimens of the giant penguin species Waimanu, Muriwaimanu and Sequiwaimanu from Canterbury Museum’s collection.

They found plotopterids and the ancient penguins had similar long beaks with slit-like nostrils, similar chest and shoulder bones, and similar wings. These similarities suggest both groups of birds were strong swimmers that used their wings to propel them deep underwater in search of food.

Some species of both groups could grow to huge sizes. The largest known plotopterids were over 2 metres long, while some of the giant penguins were up to 1.6 metres tall.

Despite sharing a number of physical features with penguins both ancient and modern, plotopterids are more closely related to boobies, gannets and cormorants than they are to penguins.

“What’s remarkable about all this is that plotopterids and ancient penguins evolved these shared features independently,” says Dr De Pietri. “This is an example of what we call convergent evolution, when distantly related organisms develop similar morphological traits under similar environmental conditions.”

Dr Scofield says some large plotopterid species would have looked very similar to the ancient penguins. “These birds evolved in different hemispheres, millions of years apart, but from a distance, you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart,” he says. “Plotopterids looked like penguins, they swam like penguins, they probably ate like penguins — but they weren’t penguins.”

Dr Mayr says the parallels in the evolution of the bird groups hint at an explanation for why birds developed the ability to swim with their wings.

“Wing-propelled diving is quite rare among birds; most swimming birds use their feet. We think both penguins and plotodopterids had flying ancestors that would plunge from the air into the water in search of food. Over time these ancestor species got better at swimming and worse at flying.”

Fossils from New Zealand’s giant penguins, including Waimanu and Sequiwaimanu are currently on display alongside life-sized models of the birds in Canterbury Museum’s exhibition Ancient New Zealand: Squawkzilla and the Giants, extended until 16 August 2020.

This research was partly supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.

How Humboldt penguins nest, new research


This 2014 video says about itself:

The Humboldt penguin is found only along the rugged Pacific coast of Peru and Chile. Although most people think of penguins as cold-weather birds, most live in temperate or even tropical habitats. The Humboldt penguin lives where one of the earth’s driest deserts meets one of the coldest ocean currents.

The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in Punta San Juan, Peru, and its partners are working to protect penguins and other marine life in this area.

Read more about Humboldt penguin conservation here.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau in the USA:

Blood markers predict Humboldt penguin nest type, reproductive success

June 2, 2020

Summary: Researchers looked at metabolic markers in the blood of 30 Humboldt penguins nesting in the Punta San Juan Marine Protected Area in Peru. The scientists discovered metabolic differences between penguins nesting in sheltered burrows and those in more exposed areas. Nesting success is critical to the Humboldt penguins’ survival as a species.

From March to December every year, Humboldt penguins nest in vast colonies on the Peruvian and Chilean coasts. The lucky ones find prime habitat for their nests in deep deposits of chalky guano where they can dig out sheltered burrows. The rest must look for rocky outcrops or other protected spaces that are more exposed to predators and environmental extremes.

In a new study, researchers looked at metabolic markers in the blood of 30 Humboldt penguins nesting in the Punta San Juan Marine Protected Area in Peru. The scientists wanted to know if there were metabolic differences between penguins nesting in the guano-rich burrows and in the exposed areas.

Nesting success is critical to the Humboldt penguins’ long-term survival as a species. Decades of aggressive guano harvesting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — a practice eventually replaced with more sustainable methods — depleted the Peruvian coastline and near-shore islands of their historical bird guano deposits that provided habitat for nesting penguins. Guano mining, climate change and other threats have led to a dramatic decline in Humboldt penguin populations across their range. Today, there are only about 32,000 of the birds — down from hundreds of thousands less than a century ago — and their numbers continue to fall.

“Punta San Juan and other protected marine areas and reserves along the coast of Peru still provide some protected sites with good guano deposits that the penguins are able to dig into to make their nests,” said Dr. Michael Adkesson, the vice president of clinical medicine for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo.

Adkesson led the research with David Schaeffer, a professor emeritus of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Jeff Levengood, a researcher with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

“We know from studies by Peruvian biologists that penguins produce more chicks with higher survival rates when they are able to dig burrow nests into guano deposits,” Adkesson said. “So we wanted to see if we could detect — based on the blood of these birds — metabolic differences that would indicate the penguins nesting in less ideal nest sites were using more energy to deal with the fact that they’re more exposed to the weather and predators.”

The task was a challenge because few studies have analyzed blood metabolites in birds and the researchers did not have a hypothesis about what they would find, said Schaeffer, who, with Levengood, conducted the statistical analyses of 19 saccharide metabolites.

Their work revealed that penguins in sheltered and unsheltered locations had consistent — and distinct — patterns of several sugars in their blood. The blood sugars that best predicted the birds’ nesting habitat included arabinose, maltose, glucose-6-phosphate and levoglucosenone.

That last sugar is a metabolic byproduct of exposure to a pollutant, levoglucosan, which is generated by the burning of cellulose. Setting fire to agricultural waste is common in regions near the nesting colony. Forest fires also generate levoglucosan. This metabolite was higher in the birds in exposed nests.

“This unexpected finding is one of the few indicators that we have that the unsheltered penguins are being exposed to more air pollution than their counterparts in burrows,” Schaeffer said.

The differences in the other saccharides likely reflect the extra metabolic stresses the penguins in exposed nest sites experience, the researchers said. More research is needed to tease out the relationships between these metabolites and their health.

“This is another tool in the toolbox of understanding what’s going on with the penguins in this region,” Adkesson said. “We know the penguins can adapt to the lack of good nesting habitat to some extent, but it’s not ideal for the long-term survival of the species. We hope that by looking at what’s going on in their blood we can better predict how changes in the environment will affect their health and reproductive success, with the ultimate goal of shaping conservation strategies that protect the penguins and their habitat.”

King penguins, other wildlife of South Georgia


This 29 May 2020 video says about itself:

South Georgia – Penguin Paradise of the South Atlantic | Free Documentary – Nature

In the middle of the Antarctic Ocean, an entire mountain range arises from the water: South Georgia, the nursery of the Antarctic. Hundreds of thousands of penguins, elephant seals, fur seals and their young overcrowd the beaches.

The rough weather and the extremely difficult access to the island cause filmmaking to be an endeavor requiring much of the film crew around Roland Gockel and Rosie Koch and the state of the art cameras. A lot of patience and sensitivity over a period spanning some five years now offers unknown and poignant insights into the life of the king penguins on South Georgia Island.

Antarctic whale and penguins, video


This 22 May 2020 Dutch video shows a whale and penguins in the Antarctic.

It says about itself (translated):

Just before the coronavirus crisis, he made the journey of a lifetime. Jazz musician and birdwatcher Ruben Hein signed up as an “artist in residence” on a ship full of biologists, towards the South Pole. He is now incorporating the pristine nature experiences along the way, and the encounters with elephant seals, king penguins and wandering albatrosses, into his music.

Filmed by Marcel Paul.

Antarctic penguins and climate change


This 8 April 2020 video says about itself:

Antarctica, climate change and a tale of two penguins

Jonathan Watts visits Antarctica with a team of scientists to look at how human activity and rising temperatures are creating winners and losers among penguins – and why this should be a warning to us all.

Food wrapping, fishing gear and plastic waste continue to reach the Antarctic. Two new studies detail how plastic debris is reaching sub-Antarctic islands: here.

Chicago penguins benefit from coronavirus pandemic


This 17 March 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Penguins wander empty Chicago aquarium during coronavirus closure

While most of the American public is asked to stay indoors amid the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium took the opportunity to let some of its penguins explore the other side of their glass exhibit. A now-viral video shows the flightless birds wandering the aquarium, looking around at the fish and other fixtures of the space.

This video says about itself:

Without guests in the building, caretakers at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium are getting creative in how they provide enrichment to animals, resulting in a field trip for some of the penguins there on Sunday (March 15 2020). While the aquarium is closed to the public due to coronavirus quarantine, animal care staff and veterinarians are onsite 24/7.

At least 83 people in the United States have died from the virus, as of Monday (March 16), according to Johns Hopkins University and public health agencies, with the hardest-hit state, Washington, accounting for the bulk of the fatalities, including six more announced on Monday.

Penguin evolution, video


This 18 March 2020 video says about itself:

When Penguins Went From The Sky To The Sea

Today, we think of penguins as small-ish, waddling, tuxedo-birds. But they evolved from a flying ancestor, were actual giants for millions of years, and some of them were even dressed a little more casually.

How emperor penguins stay warm by huddling


This 27 December 2019 video about emperor penguins says about itself:

How Does Huddling Help Penguins Stay Warm? | BBC Earth

The centre of a penguin huddle can reach temperatures of up to 37 degrees C! How exactly does piling in help these snow animals stay so warm?

Top Five penguins on video


This 21 December 2019 video says about itself:

Best of Penguins | Top 5 | BBC Earth

Ready for some comical waddling, committed relationships and shocking behaviour? From the Antarctic wastes to the blazing African sun, join us as we celebrate one of the most tenacious birds on the planet – the penguin!

Antarctic gentoo penguins build nests


This 16 December 2019 video says about itself:

Gentoo Penguins Build Love Nests! | Penguin Post Office | BBC Earth

Why have a rock on your finger when you can have them in a nice neat pile? These Gentoo penguins have the right idea.

On a tiny island in Antarctica, there’s a post office surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery and 4,000 Gentoo penguins… Every summer, as tourists turn up in their hundreds to see the penguins and to send a postcard, the birds rush to find a partner and raise their young. This extraordinary four-month drama starts when the first penguin hops onto the island and continues until the last one leaves and the post office closes its doors for winter.

I was privileged to see these Port Lockroy penguins.