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Beth Storey-Jones

How Can You Help Penguins?

Gentoo Penguins and sheep

How Can You Help Penguins?

By Beth Storey-Jones

Threats to penguins

There are many threats to penguins. From toxic plastics, resource competition, habitat destruction to invasive species, these animals need as much help as we can possibly give them. First, we will look into the problem’s penguins are facing on a regular basis and what can be done to help now and in the future.

Plastic pollution

In a 2015 study, Wilcox and his colleagues predicted that the concentration of plastics found in the ocean globally would be up to 580,000 pieces per km2 affecting around 186 different seabird species including penguins[1]. The two main ways that plastic effects wildlife is through ingestion and entanglement. Ingestion ranges in its effects, causing blockages in the gut and the leaching of toxins that eventually damage vital organs, which can lead to cancers and offspring birth defects[2]. Entanglement is just as fatal, with many species unable to free themselves from non – perishable plastics and discarded fishing equipment. Leading us onto the next threat to penguins: overfishing.

Image  1 : An African Penguin struggling to free his/her bill from a piece of plastic debris. This will inhibit his/her ability to eat, appropriately swim and even effectively breathe. (Source: Avery, 2018).

Competition for resources 

Penguin diets consists almost exclusively of fish. According Trathan, et al (2014), there is currently a shortage of studies that investigate the relationship and interactions that occur between commercial fishing and the effect on local penguin populations [3]. One of these such studies by Crawford, et al (2011) looked into the collapse of populations of penguins in South Africa. They found strong evidence to suggest that both the fishing industry and environmental instability played a part, with the penguins substituting sardines for nutrient lacking pelagic gobies [4]. Anchovies were also a staple for penguins in the past, but they also fell victim to overfishing when the sardines disappeared from the area during the 1060’s [5]. 

Encroachment and habitat degradation 

Chile is home to 80% of the world’s Humboldt Penguin population. An interesting Oceana- commissioned study found that nesting sites were being threatened by the creation of 2 open pit mines. To protect the species, Oceana Chile partnered with other NPOs (non-profit organisations) and the concerned Chilean community to oppose the development that would increase pollution and oil spills as well as create noise pollution, habitat loss and encroachment [6]. 

A lesser known issue for penguins is habitat degradation, caused by invasive or domestic species. An example of this can be seen in the Falkland Islands, where livestock is damaging vegetation cover for penguin chicks, which can be fatal during rainfall [7]. Large populations of grazing rabbits also have had this same effect on Macquarie Island, but more substantially their over-consumption of the land has led to major landslides decimating breeding grounds. The invasive species crisis isn’t a modern problem. It can be seen dating right back to the 1600’s when whalers and other sea dwelling humans introduced species such as black rats to the Galapagos Islands. A couple of hundred years later when the island’s human population increased, domestic animals such as dogs and pigs where also introduced, as well as cats. Records state that one cat that inhabited Isabela Island increased adult penguin mortality by 49% each year! [8]

Image 2: Penguins often have to share their habitat with farmland. (Source: Penguins International photo library)

The Climate Crisis 

How climate change directly effects penguins is still being researched. However, studies into how their environment is affected both in the short term and in the long term is extensive. 

Increased snowfall as a result of warmer conditions is contributing to Adelie chick mortality in Antarctica [9]. Similarly, an increase in storm frequency in Argentina has resulted in increased reproductive failure in Magellanic Penguins [10]. Southern Rockhopper Penguins are declining due to the decrease in condition of parent penguins, due to lacking food resources, resulting in low survival success of hatchlings [11]. 

Image 3: Sadly, Adelie chicks are starving while parents struggle to find food. (Source: Griffin, 2017).

So, what can you do to help…?

It’s pretty tricky to know how you can directly help penguins, especially when they live in remote parts of the world. But there are lots of ways you can help to create a healthy environment for them to live in. And you can do this without spending a penny (even saving a bit in some cases!) These include: 

  • Ensure any fish you purchase is from sustainable, well managed fisheries 
  • Cut back on products packaged in plastic or plastic-based items
  • Make sure you are recycling whenever you can and disposing of other waste correctly. 

To help with the climate change crisis, you can: 

  • Reduce the meat you eat 
  • Buy less, especially if it is unnecessary 
  • Using public transport where possible 
  • Arguably one of the most important points, use your voice! Support your politicians and community in their battles to strengthen climate change science. 

You can also help in other ways, such as supporting Penguins International directly by:

  • Donating to one of the “Help Penguins Now” causes. 
  • Create a free “Facebook Birthday Fundraiser”
  • Adopt-a-Penguin (a perfect gift for a penguin loving friend or family member!) 
  • Donate to the “Penguin Clean Up Fund”
  • Become a sponsor

What did you learn about all the threats to penguins and the simple things we can do to help? Let us know.  And please help us to continue to provide you with penguin news articles by donating to Penguins International.

Read more about penguins in some of our other blogs:

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King Penguins

Reference List

  1. Wilcox, C., Sebille, E., and Hardesty, B. (2015). Threat of plastic to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 112 11899-11904 
  2. Derraik, J. (2002). The Pollution of the Marine Environment by Plastic Debris: A Review. Marine Pollutant Bulletin. 44, 842-852. 
  3. Trathan, P., Garcia-Borboroglu, P., Boersma, D., Bost, C-A., Robert, J., Crawford, R., Crossin, G., Cuthbert, R., Dann, P., Davis, L., De La Puente, S., Ellenberg, U., Lynch, H., Mattern, T., Putz, K., Seddon, P., Trivelpiece, W., and Wienecke, B. (2014). Population, habitat loss, fishing and climate change as critical threats to penguins. Conservation Biology. 29, 31-41
  4. Crawford, R., Altwegg, R., Barham, B., Barham, P., Durant, J., Dyer, B., Geldenhuys, D., Makhado, A., Pichegru, L., Ryan, P., Underhill, L., Upfold, L., Visagie, J., Waller, L., and Whittington, P. (2011). Collapse of South Africa’s Penguins in the early 21st Century. African Journal of Marine Science. 33, 139-156. 
  5. Ludynia, K., J.‐P. Roux, R. Jones, J. Kemper, and L. G. Underhill. (2010). Surviving off junk: low‐energy prey dominates the diet of African penguins Spheniscus demersus at Mercury Island, Namibia, between 1996 and 2009. African Journal of Marine Science 32:563–572.
  6. Oceana, 2017. Oceana reports severe flaws in the environmental proceedings of Dominga and requests rejecting the project. [online]. Oceana. Available from: https://oceana.org/press-center/press-releases/oceana-reports-severe-flaws-environmental-proceedings-dominga-and [Accessed 10 December 2019]
  7. Demongin, L., Poisbleau, I., Strange, J., and Quillfeldt, P. (2010). Effects of severe rains on the mortality of southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) chicks and its impact on breeding success. Ornitologia Neotropical. 21,430–443.
  8. Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Services. (2013). Macquarie Island pest eradication project. [online]. Tasmanian Government. Available from: https://parks.tas.gov.au/Documents/Evaluation_Report_Macquarie_Island_Pest_Eradication_Project.pdf [Accessed 10 December 2019].
  9. Ducklow, H., Baker, K., Martinson, D., Quentin, L., Ross, R., Smith, R., Stammerjohn. S., Vernet, M., Fraser, M. (2007). Marine pelagic ecosystems: The West Antarctic Peninsula. Philosophical Transactions Royal Society Series B. 362, 67–94.
  10. Boersma, P., and Rebstock, G. (2010). Effects of double bands on Magellanic penguins. Journal of Field Ornithology. 81, 195–205.
  11. Crawford, R., Makhado, A., Upfold, L., and Dyer, B. (2008). Mass on arrival of rockhopper penguins at Marion Island correlated with breeding success. African Journal of Marine Science. 30, 185–188.

 

Images 

 

  1. Avery, M. (2018). Guy Shorrock – Plastic Perils and Penguins. [online]. WordPress. Available from: https://markavery.info/2018/01/28/guy-shorrock-plastics-perils-penguins/ [Accessed 10 December 2019].
  2. Farmers Weekly. (2018). Farming on the front line: Sheep in the Falkland Islands. [online] Farmers Weekly. Available from: https://www.fwi.co.uk/international-agriculture/farming-front-line-sheep-falkland-islands [Accessed 10 December 2019].

3. Griffin, A, 2017. Thousands of tiny baby Adelie Penguin starve to death as changing weather forces parents to travel for food. [online]. Independent. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/baby-penguins-adelie-global-warming-climate-change-wwf-chicks-dead-parents-a7997396.html [Accessed 10 December 2019].

Penguins are overheating! Yep, you read that right!

Penguin skin showing feather density

Penguins are overheating! Yep, you read that right!

By Beth Storey-Jones

What do you imagine when you think of penguins? 

  • Highly adapted?
  • Caring parents? 
  • Amazing swimmers? 
  • Looking fly in their tuxedos? (no pun intended)

Well you would be 100% correct on all accounts. You might also worry about how they may struggle to keep warm? In fact, this isn’t their primary issue. They’re actually more at risk of overheating! Yes, I did say overheating. This is a real problem and is becoming detrimental to penguin populations. Let me explain!

Brief penguin anatomy and physiology lesson

First, let’s take a brief look at a penguin’s anatomy and physiology. They are aquatic, built for life at sea. To allow them to thrive in the water, warm-blooded animals need to be well insulated. Whales have blubber, seals have thick fur pelts, but birds have neither. Evolutionarily speaking, birds avoided adaptations that would hinder flight. So, penguins have had to use pre-existing characteristics and tweak them to survive in their niche, this being their feathers.  As a result, these feathers are short, ridged and interlock [1] to form an air trap (figure 1). Which is equivalent to a dry suit. Any heat obtained by the bird is kept in between the base layer of the feathers and the top layer of the skin, and works well as an insulator when in the water. The trouble comes when this same heat is not released, as when they return to land.

Fig. 1 Penguin skin showing feather density [1]

Penguin Distribution – Where do they live?

Fig. 2 Penguin Range Map [2]

Contrary to popular belief, most penguin species live in temperate and even tropical zones, not Antarctica (Fig. 2). Consider the Little Blue Penguin, who breeds up and down the coasts of Australia and New Zealand [2]. They often only come ashore once the sun begins to set. A more popular species, the Galapagos Penguin, avoids direct sunlight by creating nesting areas in shaded lava rock cracks. Water temperature can also be as high as 30oC (86.0°F) around the equator [3] and for a bird that has to maintain an internal body temperate of 39oC (102.2°F) this can be challenging. With their feathery armour only just able to regulate this temperature, prevention methods aren’t always the best medicine.

So, how do penguins combat hyperthermia? To answer this question in short, thermoregulation adaptations. It’s really interesting, so I’ll elaborate! You may have noticed that quite a few bird species have naked legs or webbed feet, or both. These areas of the body house complex blood vessels which can constrict to control the amount of heat loss when cold or expand to lose heat when the animal is too hot, comparable to a radiator [3]. Penguins such as the Humboldt Penguin also have featherless faces. Behaviourally, penguins pant. Which evaporates the body’s moisture while using up body heat to do so. Much like your dog, when he’s retrieved his favourite tennis ball for the 100th time. Penguins will also hold their flippers out to the side to allow breezes to cool them down even further.

Chicks at risk

Penguin chicks are also at risk of overheating. Their soft down is even more efficient at heat retention. While unable to thermoregulate, chicks are sheltered from the sun by their parents. Unlike the adults, their flippers are also covered in insulating down. So, the babies have to rely on their disproportionately large (and cute) feet (Fig. 3) to act as a personal radiator [3]. On exceptionally hot days, juveniles have been observed essentially laying like a starfish on the ground to expose their feet. Some species will even stand in water. 

Fig. 3 The extra-large feet of a penguin chick [3]

Challenges ahead…

So far, it has been explained that heat regulation is a bit of a challenge for the penguin. That is without even taking into consideration our global warming crisis. I know, I know, everyone is talking about it. But it is a vital element to consider in the lives of our beloved penguin friends. The finely tuned adaptations we have talked about did not happen overnight. It was through the millenia-long trial and error process of evolution and will still be ongoing today. These adaptation changes aren’t necessarily a problem, but it’s the small window of opportunity that these animals (as well as other species) have to do it in when temperatures rise quicker than evolution. Sadly, this is where the detrimental part comes in. Sea temperatures are increasing. Penguin chicks are struggling to survive due to poor food quality and quantity from these temperature increases[4]. The warmer climes seen in Antarctica recently are causing unprecedented rainfall and the melting of potential snowfall. This can be damaging to eggs that must be kept dry and warm. And the chicks may also become muddy and wet and can succumb to hypothermia because their down feathers are not waterproof[4].

Let’s bring it all together. Penguins live in water. They inhabit not only the harsh, dry and cold parts of the world, but surprisingly also some of the hottest. They have finely-tuned mechanisms to allow them to do so. Such as radiators for feet and dense plumage for when they need to stay warm. But these adaptations are so specialised to their surroundings, that any changes can be fatal. With sea temperatures rising, food availability and competition is high, as well as the risks of chicks being exposed to hyper or hypothermia. This brings a bit of a chilly end to an extremely cool topic!

Thinking of penguins in general, do you think they would overheat? Did you like what you learned by reading this blog? Leave a comment below. And please help us to continue to provide you with penguin news articles by donating to Penguins International.

Read more about penguins in some of other blogs:

Like our penguin blogs? Sign up for our newsletter to get them right in your inbox!

Reference List

  1. DeNapoli, D. 2010. The Great Penguin Rescue. New York. Free Press. 
  2. Muller-Schwarze, D. 1984. The Behaviour of Penguins – Adapted to Ice and Tropics. New York. State University of New York Press
  3. Kaiser, G. 2007. The Inner Bird: Anatomy and Evolution. Vancouver. University of British Columbia. 
  4. Sidder, A. 2016. Antarctica Could Lose Most of Its Penguins to Climate Change. [online]. National Geographic. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/06/adelie-penguins-antarctica-climate-change-population-decline-refugia/ [Accessed 24 October 2019].

Figures

  1. National History Museum. 2018. Ever wondered how Emperor Penguins survive temperatures of -60 degrees centigrade? Their feathers are densely packed as these photos show but as researcher Cassondra L. Williams and colleagues discovered there is more to the story than meets the eye. [online]. Twitter. Available from: https://twitter.com/nhm_oology/status/1022076201828012032 [Accessed 24 October 2019].
  2. Kikkawa, E., Tsuda, T., Sumiyama, D., Naruse, T., Fukuda, M., Kurita, M., Wilson, R., LeMaho, Y., Miller, G., Tsuda, M., Murata, K., Kulski, J., & Inoko, H. 2009. Trans-species polymorphism of the Mhc class II DRB-like gene in banded penguins (genus Spheniscus). Immunogenetics. 61, 341-352.
  3. Tennessee Aquarium. 2017. Call It “Sasquawk”: Big Feet a Distinct Feature of the Aquarium’s Newest Penguin Chick. [online]. Tennessee Aquarium. Available from: https://www.tnaqua.org/newsroom/entry/call-it-sasquawk-big-feet-a-distinct-feature-of-the-aquariums-newest-pengui [Accessed 24 October 2019].
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