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Georgia Podmore

Wildlife Tourism – Is it affecting penguins?

Tourist with Chinstrap Penguin

Wildlife Tourism – Is it affecting penguins?

by Georgia Podmore

Where can I go to see penguins on vacation? This is a common search phrase on internet search engines. There are a variety of countries around the world that have wild penguins and it may seem that no harm is caused from tourists travelling out to experience wild penguins in their natural habitat. With more than half of the species of penguins in decline – due to climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction – it is believed that through tourism the general public can be educated to understand how they may be able to help save the penguins. With thousands of people travelling to specific beaches to witness wild penguins, it should be questioned whether the penguins may be affected through the tourism industry in a variety of ways.

Is Wildlife Tourism Bad?

The term animal tourism is generally associated with negative connotations due to the fact that the majority of people link this to interactions with wild animals. However, this is not necessarily the case when discussing penguin tourism, meaning negative impact is often overlooked. When looking at recommendations to see penguins in the wild, it is common that the visit will consist of a guided tour with strict rules on keeping distance from the penguins and not touching them.

But the penguins are walking toward me!

As CNN quotes, “penguins can be extremely curious, therefore they may approach people” (Spanne, 2019). This is most definitely true, especially of younger juvenile penguins. Villanueva, Walker and Beterellotti (2006) investigated the habituation of Magellanic Penguins to tourists through observing behaviour and measuring corticosterone secretion. The research compared penguins that lived in a tourist-visited area with those in an undisturbed area and found that there was no obvious negative effect on the penguins from tourists.

However, tourists do have the potential to make penguins sick

Research carried out in 2018 found that bacteria from tourists can be passed on to penguins in a “reverse zoonosis” (Rix, 2015). This research focused on faeces of over 666 birds found in Antarctica. Researchers have now become worried that the consequences of tourism on penguins could lead to numbers declining rapidly if a disease is spread (Bollevich, 2018). Cullen and Busch (2009) also discovered that unmanaged tourism can negatively affect the breeding success and survival of Yellow-eyed Penguins, potentially as a result of causing stress. Elsewhere, another study revealed that King Penguins showed signs of stress around humans, whether that being tourists or researchers, due to the disturbance of their “homes,” although it also found that once exposed to humans, the penguins become habituated to them (Rich, 1986).

So is tourism absolutely bad for penguins?

It is difficult to come to a concluding factor on whether penguin tourism has a negative effect on penguin health. When analysing research studies that have been completed, they all state a variety of different results, meaning that there cannot be a clear answer to the question. The only thing that can be stated is that it is the tour operator’s responsibility to ensure that the penguins are affected as little as possible through human presence. 

As discussed earlier, there has been evidence to support the chances of spreading disease across colonies in Antarctica. However, this research has only been limited to this area at current times, meaning that it may not be the case across other species of penguins. Each point around the effects of tourism on penguins has discussed a variety of species, meaning that a reliable conclusion cannot be made on how tourism affects penguins. Further research would need to be conducted on a particular species. Varying factors should also be investigated, such as comparing penguin behaviours dependent on distance kept by tourists. Information like this can then be used to put into place a best practise guide for tour operators, as this will ensure that the penguin’s welfare is affected as little as possible.

With 20%-40% of global tourism being animal attractions, it is understood that the income received via animals can have positive effects on the animals and local communities if used correctly (Action for ethical tourism, 2015). An example of how tourism has helped to save a species would be the tracking of gorillas across Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. There are strict rules put into place centred around tracking gorillas to ensure safety for tourists and animals. These types of tours have helped to increase numbers of mountain gorillas, with over 800 now found. Although research has produced data that proves tourists can pass on diseases to penguins, if strict regulations are put into place by tour operators, this should not cause any problems and can instead be a positive influence. 

The main aim of wildlife tourism should be to educate and conserve the species, with communication being a key factor in achieving success. If researchers piece together their findings and report this to local guides, then penguins should not be affected as much. Many tourists taking part in these tours are doing so because they want to witness an animal in the wild as it may be their last opportunity to do so. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that penguin species do not become extinct, so actions must be critiqued and communicated to ensure that it is not our last chance to witness penguins in their natural habitat.

What are your thoughts on visiting penguins after reading this blog? Please let us know. And please help us to continue to provide you with penguin news articles by donating to Penguins International.

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Action for Ethical Tourism (2015). Tourism Concerns. [Online] Guarantee (England). Available at: https://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Animals-in- Tourism-|Web-Final.pdf [Accessed 30 Jun. 2019].

Bollevich, M (2018). Tourists may be making Antarctica’s penguins sick. [Online] Science | AAAS. Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/12/tourists-may-be-making-antarctica-s-penguins-sick [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].

Busch, J. and Cullen, R. (2009). Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of yellow eyed penguin recovery. Ecological Economics, 68(3), pp 762-776.

Rich, V. (1986) Falkland Islands: Opinions divided on penguin deaths. Nature, 322(6074) pp 4.

Rix, J. (2015). Should tourists be banned from Antarctica? [Online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30709924 [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].

Spanne, A. (2019) 5 places to see penguins in their natural habitats. [Online] CNN Travel. Available at: https://www.edition.cnn.com/travel/article/penguins-viewing/index.html [Accessed 30 Jun. 2019]

Villanueva, C., Walker, B. and Bertellotti, M. (2011). A matter of history: effects of tourism on physiology, behaviours and breeding parameters in Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) at two colonies in Argentina. Journal of Ornithology, 153 (1), pp 219-228.

Yellow-eyed Penguins – one of the rarest penguins in the world

endangered species, what is the rarest penguins, how many types of penguins are there, where do penguins lives, what do penguins eat, what color eyes do penguins have

The Yellow-eyed Penguin – one of the rarest penguins in the world

by Georgia Podmore

The Yellow-eyed Penguin is one of the rarest penguin species in the world. It is found north of the Antarctic Ocean, along the coast of Southern New Zealand (Ellenberg, Mattern and Seddon, 2009). As the name suggests, the penguin is easily identifiable by the yellow colour around its eyes, along with a brightly coloured yellowish line that runs from its eyes round the back of the head.

Yellow-eyed Penguin characteristics

Like other penguins, the Yellow-eyed Penguin is carnivorous and preys on marine animals, such as crustaceans, cephalopods and fish. They are one of the larger species and can grow to approximately 75cm in height (Ellenberg et al., 2007). The penguins will breed once a year with their mate, who remain faithful to each other. The female will lay two eggs and both parents will help with incubating the eggs until they hatch. Once hatched, the chicks will stay with their parents until approximately twelve months old. The nesting sites for Yellow-eyed Penguins can be found in the forestry and shrubs that run alongside the southeast coast of New Zealand (Doc.govt.nz, 2019). Historically, the nesting sites have been undisturbed, however in recent years the penguins have had to face land predators. This has resulted in the species becoming an endangered animal with a wild population of less than 4,000 individuals (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2017).

Threats to Yellow-eyed Penguin populations

Predators

Yellow-eyed Penguins must deal with predators near their breeding grounds that are now beginning to hunt on their eggs. These predators include feral cats, stoats, ferrets and dogs (Ellenberg et al., 2007). On land, these predators are generally not a cause for concern for adult penguins. However, due to predation on their eggs, Yellow-eyed Penguin breeding success has been declining in recent years. Predators in the ocean include sharks and fur seals. The penguins have no defense against such large predators in the water, relying strictly on swimming speed and manoeuvrability, or escaping out of the water to dry land. Like all penguins, their colouration also helps disguise them from predators, as sharks and seals may find it difficult to see the penguins from below due to their white chest, or from above due to their black backs.

Human Interference

Humans have already disrupted Yellow-eyed Penguin populations by introducing some of the penguin predators into their areas. Another way in which humans have affected the number of penguins is through disturbance from the tourism trade (Ellenberg, Mattern and Seddon, 2009). Being a spectacular penguin to look at — along with its endangered status — brings in large numbers of people who want to see these animals in the wild before they’re gone. Research has shown that large numbers of tourists can be associated with reduced breeding success, along with decreased fledgling weight, which can then affect their survival rate in the first year (Mattern et al., 2007). These factors may be influenced due to stress on the adult penguins which may affect normal behaviour. 

Disease

As the climate is warming, disease is becoming a bigger issue for Yellow-eyed Penguins. Avian malaria was responsible for 29 deaths in 2018/19 (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2017), a large and impactful number for such a small population. With increased temperatures leading to increases in mosquito breeding, the threat for disease to penguins is expected to increase. Avian diphtheria is also affecting the species, which is commonly found in young chicks. Bacterial plaque forms in the mouth of the chick and is subsequently inhaled, which eventually causes aspiration pneumonia, a potentially fatal illness.

Stress can also cause penguins to become more susceptible to disease, which for the Yellow-eyed Penguin may be coming from increased threats and tourism. 

Deforestation

Habitat loss has become one of the main reasons the number of Yellow-eyed Penguins are decreasing (Mattern et al., 2007). In New Zealand, forests are being cleared to make way for field areas for grazing animals or homes. This is then resulting in increased pressure for the penguins as they attempt to find nesting areas. 

How can we help these extremely endangered Yellow-eyed Penguins?

Help for the Yellow-eyed Penguin started in the 1980s when the population was extremely low (Sue, 2019). Conservation organisations are focusing on protecting the forest and shrub land for the penguins to ensure they have the space to breed and build their nests, thousands of plants have also been planted around the areas for protection. Although this all sounds beneficial, help is still needed to protect more areas or to re-establish areas that have already been cleared.

In New Zealand, there is the Otapahi Reserve which is a protected area for the penguins, to ensure that they can live and breed without being disturbed by humans and predators. Dunedin Wildlife Hospital has also begun catching penguins with injuries and rehabilitating them. Veterinarian Lisa Argilla states, “We do what we have to do to save the species, as we cannot fix climate change and habitat destruction” (Biologicaldiversity.org, 2014)

There are a large amount of conservation groups and rehabilitation centres now working to support the Yellow-eyed Penguins and to help increase the population. Every effort is being made to ensure that the population is protected, and with support from the public we can all strive to make the maximum impact and hopefully save the Yellow-eyed Penguin from extinction.

Did you know about Yellow-eyed Penguins? And how rare they are? 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.

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Reference List

Biologicaldiversity.org. (2014). Yellow-eyed penguin. [online] Available at: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/yellow-eyed_penguin.html [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Center for Biological Diversity (2019). Yellow-eyed Penguin. [image] Available at: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/yellow-eyed_penguin.html [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Doc.govt.nz. (2019). Yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho. [online] Available at: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/penguins/yellow-eyed-penguin-hoiho/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Ellenberg, U., Mattern, T. and Seddon, P. (2009). Habituation potential of yellow-eyed penguins depends on sex, character and previous experience with humans. Animal Behaviour, 77(2), pp.289-296.

Ellenberg, U., Setiawan, A., Cree, A., Houston, D. and Seddon, P. (2007). Elevated hormonal stress response and reduced reproductive output in Yellow-eyed penguins exposed to unregulated tourism. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 152(1), pp.54-63.

Mattern, T., Ellenberg, U., Houston, D. and Davis, L. (2007). Consistent foraging routes and benthic foraging behaviour in yellow-eyed penguins. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 343, pp.295-306.

Sue, M. (2019). Penguins: Yellow-eyed Penguins – Megadyptes antipodes. [online] Penguins.cl. Available at: http://www.penguins.cl/yellow-penguins.htm [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. (2017). Distribution and habitat. [online] Available at: https://www.yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/penguins/distribution-and-habitat/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Enrichment for Captive Penguins: Can it be successful?

Humboldt Penguin

Enrichment for Penguins: Is it needed, can it be successful?

by Georgia Podmore

One of an animal keeper’s main tasks during their day is to design and offer enrichment for a variety of species. In my work place we have tried simple enrichment with the Humboldt Penguins, but they all seemed nervous of the objects. So, it has now become normal for enrichment to be overlooked at the facility, as the penguins do not use it anyway. This is not affecting the penguins lives however, as there are no signs of stress in the colony. Rickey Kinley, a Senior Aviculture Keeper at Cincinnati Zoo, also has problems with the penguins not being interested in “playing” with enrichment devices (Yin and Kinley, 2015).

Hunting for fish is a penguin’s enrichment in the natural environment

Focusing on why enrichment may be needed would mean looking at the Humboldt Penguin’s natural behaviours out in the wild. The biggest form of enrichment for a wild penguin would be hunting for fish. This cannot be easily replicated in a captive environment as live fish are not fed to penguins. A lot of zoos also feed penguins by hand to make sure that individuals are getting enough to eat (Ings, Waran and Young, 1997). It can be a difficult task to ensure top physical health for penguins if food is then being put in enrichment, as certain penguins may not be interested and therefore lose condition.

Wild penguins normally spend most of their time swimming in the ocean, but Cincinnati Zoo stated that their penguins spend most of their day on land. The different types of enrichment below look at how these may affect penguin activity and behaviour and hopefully will lead to further development of penguin enrichment ideas.

zookeeper feeding captive penguins
Photo by Georgia Podmore

What types of enrichment work for penguins in captivity?

Physical Habitat

The enclosure for penguins should guarantee that is has the correct space for the number of penguins, alongside ensuring that it has land and water within it. When looking at enclosure design, keepers need to be thinking about utilising space for enrichment. This may include having areas that the fish can be hidden for the penguins. For most captive penguins their enclosures will meet the requirements set by governing bodies. This ensures that the penguins have a positive environment. A great idea used at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo incorporates floating platforms in the middle of the water as this encourages the penguins to be more active around the enclosure. 

Enclosure design is very important for captive penguins

Social

Penguins are extremely social animals, so it is important that they are housed in social groups to ensure that they are stimulated. Most collections holding penguins will generally always have a small group but something that may also develop social enrichment are mixed species exhibits. These exhibits consist of having animals that would naturally encounter each other in the wild, which then creates enrichment through species interaction. There is not a lot of examples of this being done with penguins, however it may be something that could be researched further to look at whether it may benefit activity. Mirrors are often used as social enrichment for horses that are stabled alone and have been proven to reduce stress. Mirrors could be added under the surface of the water as this may encourage more swimming activity. 

Food

Food based enrichment is the most used method of enrichment and is generally used to prolong feeding times of animals. As previously mentioned most captive penguins will be hand fed to ensure that they are all getting enough fish per day. Cincinnati zoo used hamster balls in the water that had fish inside them, as this would encourage the penguins to spend longer swimming while also enabling them to use their hunting skills. This was not a simple task though as keepers stated that the penguins were initially nervous of the hamster balls, so they had to be slowly trained to positively associate the balls with food (Yin and Kinley, 2015). This took over 15 weeks but shows that if animal keepers take the time to slowly introduce enrichment devices, the penguins will become adapted and start to use enrichment.

Cognitive

Novel objects such as boomer balls and tyres are classed as cognitive enrichment, with the main aim of enhancing the animal’s mental stimulation (Puppe et al., 2007). The hamster balls used by Cincinnati Zoo can be used as an example of cognitive enrichment. As mentioned, penguins can be quite nervous around novel objects so this is something that may need to be slowly introduced. This is also a reason why you may not see many novel objects in a penguin enclosure.

Sensory

Sensory enrichment can focus on any of the five senses. This is a type of enrichment that can be used successfully for penguins and should be promoted more within the captive environments. RZSS Edinburgh Zoo discussed the success of a bubble machine for their 130 penguins stating that “All three of our penguin species loved playing with the bubbles” (Edinburgh Zoo, 2018)

There is a lack of sources online that discuss penguin enrichment. Although it is obvious that enriching penguins can be difficult, and some may not feel that it is necessary. The bubble machine popularity at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo gives an example of enrichment that is increasing mental stimulation in captive penguins. With further practise and study more enrichment ideas may then also be found, and this will enable captive penguins to thrive (Lindley, 2004). Enrichment should be given to any animal whether it is showing signs of stress or not, as the main aim should always be to keep trying to improve captive animal welfare. Zoos across the world need to be publishing images of their trials with enrichment to communicate and be able to develop enrichment for penguins.

Natural environment vs zoos; a difference and something to try to match. What did you find out in this blog? We love bringing you this type of information, but also can’t do it without your help. Please consider donating to Penguins International so we can continue to keep you informed.

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Reference List:

Edinburgh Zoo. (2018). Unbelieva-bubble penguin enrichment at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo | Edinburgh Zoo. [online] Available at: https://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/news/article/13881/unbelieva-bubble-penguin-enrichment/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].

Ings, R., Waran, N. and Young, R. (1997). Attitude of zoo visitors to the idea of feeding live prey to zoo animals. Zoo Biology, 16(4), pp.343-347.

Lindley, A. (2004). Environmental Enrichment for Captive Animals. The Veterinary Journal, 168(2), p.173.

Puppe, B., Ernst, K., Schön, P. and Manteuffel, G. (2007). Cognitive enrichment affects behavioural reactivity in domestic pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105(1-3), pp.75-86.

Yin, D. and Kinley, R. (2015). Cincinnati Zoo Penguin Training. [online] Available at: https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/cincinnati-zoo-penguin-training1/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].

Avian Diphtheria and penguins “More questions than answers”

Yellow-eyed penguin chick receiving a vaccine

Avian Diphtheria and penguins “More questions than answers”

by Georgia Podmore

Avian diphtheria is a term applied to a variety of infections such as avian pox. One type of this illness can be transmitted through mosquitos and causes wart growths on un-feathered skin from a virus. A second form of this illness affects the throat of the bird and is caused by a bacterial infection. This post will be discussing this second type of avian diphtheria that caused by bacteria known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. This bacterium causes a membrane to form in the throat and produces toxin that can cause organs to fail (Massaro et al., 2004).

How does avian diphtheria affect penguins?

Avian diphtheria is common in young chicks and can cause aspiration pneumonia, subsequently causing blockages to the airways (Pfaff et al., 2017). As the airway becomes blocked, the penguin not only has difficulty breathing, but also is unable to feed, which then causes starvation and dehydration (Ratz and Murphy, 1999). Some penguins have been known to overcome the disease and survive, however these survivors typically reduced growth rates and generally have a poor condition (MacLean, 2016).

Yellow-eyed Penguins in particular are susceptible to avian diphtheria

Yellow-eyed Penguins are affected highly by avian diphtheria with reports in 2004 of 90% of New Zealand mainland penguins having contracted the infection, and over 50% resulting in fatality (Doc.govt.nz, 2014). These figures demonstrate why research is so important to be undertaken on this disease, investigating its causes and understanding potential treatments. Throughout New Zealand, researchers are continuously observing Yellow-eyed Penguins and are desperate to pinpoint the causes of this devastating infection, while also attempting to develop a vaccine and increase survivability in these highly endangered penguins. In 2014, the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries began a study on the disease, but despite intensive research, still unfortunately stated that they “came away empty handed” (Doc.govt.nz, 2014).

Previous anecdotes pointed to seasonal cycles in avian diphtheria, causing outbreaks colonies every other year. Veterinarian Kate McInnes, however, believes this is no longer the case, and that availability of food plays a much larger role in contraction of the disease (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2018). According to Dr. McInnes, “If we have a really good year with little break out there seems to be lots of food, whereas if we have less food, we do not seem to see [avian diphtheria]. But this has not yet been proven as a factor” (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2018).

How are penguins with avian diphtheria being treated?

To ensure the highest possible success rate of any penguins there are now vets and rehabilitation centres on hand to help nurse sick penguins back to health. In 2015, 46% of the chicks that contracted the disease were given antibiotics daily for five days. These treatments were shown to reduce pain and swelling in the afflicted penguins, and appear to be increasing survival rates (Pfaff et al., 2017). The number of Yellow-eyed Penguins is declining, sadly, and this disease is a big factor in why the numbers are continuously dropping. It has been reported that in 2014, 77 chicks hatched, but after the outbreak of avian diphtheria only 55 chicks fledged successfully (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2018).

Yellow-eyed penguin chick receiving a vaccine
Penguin chick with avian diphtheria receiving antibiotics (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2018).

The good news, however, in that some chicks are surviving the infection, which offers a glimmer hope for these endangered Yellow-eyed Penguins. After many years of studies by dedicated researchers and countless samples from infected penguins, researchers are starting to be able to understand the disease. Mel Young for instance, a DOC Ranger in New Zealand, found that chicks appear to catch an unknown virus first, then caught avian diphtheria as a secondary disease while their immune systems were compromised (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2018). Small steps such as this finding will eventually lead to a cure for such a debilitating disease in penguins.

There are a variety of diseases that can affect many species across the world. Avian diphtheria is an infection that is causing fatalities to the Yellow-eyed Penguins of New Zealand, and the cause is still unknown. As the Yellow-eyed Penguin is an endangered animal, it needs to be understood that there is a large amount of help and funding being put towards conserving them, whether this be through research or rehabilitation. Research is continuously being undertaken on avian diphtheria and even though there have not been many answers about the disease, there are signs of survival in penguins. This is a good indicator that the disease can eventually be treated, and vaccines created. 

What did you learn after reading about avian diphtheria? Let us know! And, we more than appreciate any support you can give us to continue learning about penguins by donating to Penguins International.

You can also learn more about penguins by some of our other blogs. Just a couple include:

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Reference List

Disease. (2018). [image] Available at: https://www.yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/penguins/threats/disease/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Doc.govt.nz. (2014). Cause of yellow-eyed penguin disease investigated. [online] Available at: https://www.doc.govt.nz/news/media-releases/2014/cause-of-yellow-eyed-penguin-disease-investigated/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

MacLean, H. (2016). Diphtheria threat to penguin colonies. [online] Otago Daily Times Online News. Available at: https://www.odt.co.nz/regions/north-otago/diphtheria-threat-penguin-colonies [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Massaro, M., Davis, L., Darby, J., Robertson, G. and Setiawan, A. (2004). Intraspecific variation of incubation periods in Yellow-eyed Penguins Megadyptes antipodes: testing the influence of age, laying date and egg size. Ibis, 146(3), pp.526-530.

Flipper Bands – Are they worth the risk to save a species?

penguin flipper bands

Flipper Bands – Are they worth the risk to save a species?

by Georgia Podmore

You can walk around a variety of zoos and see that many penguins will have flipper bands with the purpose of enabling keepers to identify the individuals easily. At a glance, this might not appear to be a problem. The penguins are swimming in their enclosure and seem to be behaving normally. However, the small metal band that has an identity scribed onto it could be causing more harm than it is worth.

Since the 1970s, research has investigated the use of flipper bands and the harm that they could cause, generally focusing on wounds that are caused when a penguin goes through its annual molt (Hampton, Ryan and Underhill, 2009). It is not only penguins in captive environment that may be having trouble with flipper bands. Researchers are continuously trying to uncover new information on different species, population counts and climate change. To gain significant data, flipper bands are often used when studying large colonies of penguins.

Are Flipper Bands Safe?

For many years, this topic has caused a debate among researchers. The team at the University of Strasbourg used evidence to back up Rory Wilson’s statement that “Some tags seem to slow down penguins”. (Jackson and Wilson, 2002) The researchers placed metal bands on 50 King Penguins, while 50 other penguins were fitted with minor radio-frequency transponders. After 10 years, it was revealed that survival rates for the banded penguins was 16% lower than the penguins that were fitted with transponders. It was observed that banded birds were affected in a variety of ways, such as being slower to breed and taking longer periods of time to forage (Gauthier-Clerc et al., 2004).

A Yellow-eyed Penguin with a flipper band for identification.

Although there are a variety of studies examining flipper bands and the effect on wild birds, some studies have found no evidence to back this up. Jackson and Wilson (2002) found that with Royal Penguins, there was no difference in the growth of chicks, survival in harsh climates or success of breeding in flipper-banded birds compared to transponder-fitted birds. However, the main portion of research – that has concluded that flipper bands are not detrimental to penguins – has been evaluating short-term use of them (Saraux et al ,. 2011).

Dee Boersma, a leading penguin researcher, believes: “All bands and all penguins are not the same” (Culik, Wilson and Bannasch, 1993).  It is hard to settle a debate when research looking into the effect of flipper bands on penguins is focusing on a variety of different species in a diversity range of environments. With 18 species of penguins all living in various climates, it is difficult to come to a concluding factor on the effect of flipper bands on welfare, as it is dependent on the individual penguins, as well as what type of flipper band is used.

Flipper bands are currently used in research to gain knowledge on the effects of climate change and the impact it is having on marine mammals. Scientists need to gather information on climate change, as it is believed that through observing marine mammals, predictions can be made earlier. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the world and the species living on it. If scientists can make predictions earlier, this can hopefully make a positive change. If they are unable to use the flipper bands to research the penguins, many other species may be in danger of becoming extinct. Dee Boersma states: “we do have to do some harm if we want to follow individuals” (Culik, Wilson and Bannasch, 1993). However, is it worth the risk to save a species? Significant data shows that penguin survival and breeding rates become lower when fitted with a flipper band. Could the long-term studies of climate change cause the extinction of penguins if these types of research are continuously used?

A Northern Rockhopper Penguin with a flipper band

Investigations into the use of small transponders have found that these have a less negative effect on the individual penguins, although further research is needed to understand whether this will affect welfare negatively in the long-term. The topic is debatable in many ways as studies have found different statistics. It is obvious that flipper bands do cause harm – whether minor or major to penguins – but climate change research is necessary to save the penguins. A study that may help push the use of transponders or similar tracking devices may be a project that assesses captive penguins. The penguins would all be the same species and live in the same environment. This research would enable more data to be published on the effects of flipper bands on specific species, climates and other factors such as age and gender. Through this type of research, this may then enable scientists to lower the risk of affecting wild penguins if they are able to understand what factors may increase the risk.

What are your thoughts on the use of flipper bands on penguins? Let us know! Also, please help us continue to learn more about penguins by donating to Penguins International. We more than appreciate your support!

You can also read more about penguins in the following blogs:

References-

Culik, B., Wilson, R. and Bannasch, R. (1993) Flipper-bands on penguins: what is the cost of a life-long commitment? Marine Ecology Progress Series, 98, pp.209-214.

Gauthier-Clerc, M., Gendner, J., Ribic, C., Fraser, W., Woehler,E., Descamps, S., Gilly, C., Le Bohec, C. and Le Maho, Y. (2004). Long-term effects of flipper bands on penguins. Proceeding of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 271 (supple_6)

Hampton, S., Ryan, P. and Underhill (2009) The effect of flipper banding on the breeding success of African Penguins Spheniscus demersus at Boulders Beach, South Africa. Ostrich, 80(2) pp.77-80.

Jackson, S. and Wilson, R. (2002) The potential costs of flipper-bands to penguins. Functional Ecology, 16(1), pp. 141-148.

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