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A Change in the Winds: El Niño and Penguins

Photograph of a beach with the sun about to set. In the horizon of the photo, you can just barely see a few penguins on the beach.

A Change in the Winds:
El Niño and Penguins

By Abigail Pietrow, Penguin Keeper

El Niño events are a naturally occurring climate phenomenon in Earth’s southern oceans. But, in the past, particularly strong El Niño events have spelled disaster for penguin colonies in the Southern Pacific. So, let’s take a look at what happens during these events and how they affect penguins.

El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Events

Upwelling currents off the western coastline of South America are driven by strong winds blowing westward from the continent. These winds drive a surface current flowing westward out towards the center of the Pacific Ocean. In turn, this current pulls cold, nutrient-rich water from deep in the ocean to the surface along this coastline. This cold water supports huge fish populations through the growth of phytoplankton when it interacts with sunlight at the surface, and these fish populations are important in supporting local fishermen and thriving populations of marine predators like seabirds and mammals!

Graphic of El Nino and La Nina surface temperature anomalies
Sea Surface Temperatures and Pressure Zones during El Niño, top (a), and La Niña, bottom (b).
Courtesy of NOAA

ENSO events represent a fluctuation in these winds. Think of a swing: it moves through a repetitive path from one side to the other reaching a peak at either end. Relating that to ENSO, El Niño represents one extreme and La Niña the other. In El Niño years, the westward-blowing winds are weaker than normal. This results in warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures and a reduction in upwelling along the coastline. During these events, fish populations often decline dramatically along the South American coastline, as there is less food available to support them. This causes challenges and competition between wildlife and fishermen for the remaining populations. 

Photograph of Magellanic Penguins by the water with glaciers in the background
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

In La Niña years, the wind patterns swing in the opposite direction, and an even stronger upwelling effect is produced. This leads to larger than normal fish populations and very productive years for fishermen and wildlife in South America.

In Spanish “ El Niño” translates to “the boy,” and is a name given to this phenomenon by Peruvian fishermen in the 1800s. The name refers to the arrival of the warm surface waters off the western coast of South America in December, often around Christmastime. 

The Events of 1982-83 and 1997-98

Although El Niño events naturally occur every 2-7years, they’re not always consistent in the strength of their effect on ocean currents and conditions. In particular, the El Niño events of 1982-83 and 1997-98 resulted in some of the strongest recorded ENSO effects in modern history. These weather events had destructive effects on penguin populations.

At the beginning of 1982, the population of Humboldt penguins in Peru was estimated to be between 6000-8000 individuals and struggling to recover after historical exploitation of guano and poaching of adults and chicks. The strong 1982-83 El Niño event and the resulting lack of food contributed to mass mortality of Humboldt penguins and widespread breeding failure during those years. Scientists recorded a population decline of 65% during this single event, leaving only 2100-3000 surviving adults in the Peruvian population as birds either died or dispersed elsewhere in an attempt to find food.

Likewise, the Galapagos penguin, one of the most endangered penguin species globally, is detrimentally affected in many of the same ways. Though they live in the equatorial Galapagos, they rely just as heavily on upwelling currents in that area to support fish populations. The El Niño of 1982-83 led to a recorded population decline of 77% and the El Niño of 1997-98 resulted in a decline of 65%. Even after 6 years of recovery in 2004, the total population was estimated to only be 50% of what it was pre-1982.

El Niño Today

When we talk about the widespread effects of a changing climate on penguins, it reaches much further than glaciers melting in Antarctica. As global climate change progresses, it is difficult for scientists to predict how this will affect the strength and frequency of El Niño events, but many agree that increases in one or both of those factors are likely.  Either stronger or more frequent events, as some have predicted, could have devastating impacts on the populations of several already threatened or endangered penguin species in South America, especially as competition with humans for limited food sources continue.

© Abigail Pietrow 2021

Abigail Pietrow is a penguin keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Aquarium of Niagara.

It’s wild how natural phenomena are so interconnected with wildlife. Did you know that wind patterns could affect penguin populations? Help us to learn more and protect wild penguins through research and education by donating to Penguins International!

Read more about penguins in some of our other blogs:

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References:

Chile’s Humboldt penguins under threat of extinction (2013, April 28) retrieved 01 January 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2013-04-chile-humboldt-penguins-threat-extinction.html 

El Niño. (n.d.) Retrieved January 01, 2021, from http://penguinworld.net/our-mission/conservation/el-nino/

Hays, Coppelia. (1986) Effects of the 1982-82 El Niño on Humboldt Penguin Colonies in Peru. Biological Conservation 36: 169-180.

Vargas, F. Hernán, S. Harrison, S. Rea, D. W. Macdonald. (2006) Biological effects of El Niño on the Galápagos penguin. Biological Conservation 127: 107-114

What is El Niño? (n.d.) Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/elnino/what-is-el-nino

World Penguin Day: Penguin Conservation Status

Illustration of all 18 penguin species in a row.

World Penguin Day: Penguin Conservation Status

By Abigail Pietrow, Penguin Keeper

April 25th is World Penguin Day! As we celebrate these wonderful and fascinating flightless birds on this day, let’s check in with how the 18 different species are doing.

Conservation status for each species is noted in terms of its International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation.

Image of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation.
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation. Photo credit: https://www.iucnredlist.org
Photograph of an Adelie Penguin looking at the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

Adelie Penguin

The Adelie Penguin is listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. Their populations were feared to be decreasing until a previously unknown “supercolony” consisting of an estimated 1.5 million individuals was discovered on remote Antarctic islands in 2018. Surprisingly, these birds were located in part due to the discovery of huge guano stains on NASA satellite imagery.

African Penguin

The IUCN Red List considers the African Penguin to be in the “Endangered” category. Populations have declined by almost 65% since 1989 due to a number of different threats like oil spills and overfishing of food sources by humans. Small victories have been noted in recent years, such as the designation of Robben Island, historically an important breeding island for the species, as a protected marine site in 2019. Organizations like the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) work tirelessly to help the survival of this species.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguins are currently listed as “Least Concern.” New research published in 2020 reported the results of one of the first censuses of Chinstrap colonies since the 1970s. They reported decreases of up to 50% at some of the colony sites studied. As with other penguin species, increased monitoring of populations could be very useful in helping scientists paint a more accurate picture of how these species are coping with various challenges in their environment.

Photograph of Chinstrap Penguin looking at the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach
Photograph of Emperor Penguins walking on sea ice.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Emperor Penguin

Perhaps the most well known of all penguin species, the Emperor Penguin is designated as “Near Threatened.” Currently, the population trend of this species is fairly stable, but their reproductive strategy and natural history is linked to the seasonal sea ice of Antarctica. Predictive modeling suggests that over the course of the next century, climate change will effect the formation of Antarctic sea ice enough to significantly imperil this species.

Erect-Crested Penguin

This little-known species breeds on only two groups of islands off of the coast of New Zealand, is possibly one of the least-studied penguins species in the world, and is listed as “Endangered.” Studies conducted indicate rapid decline over the last 50 years but surveys have been limited to only portions of the island groups and may not be wholly reliable estimates.

Fiordland Penguin

Also known as “Tawaki” (in Māori) in their native range of New Zealand, the Fiordland penguin is considered “Near Threatened.” When these penguins are not nesting in tangled rainforest, they complete massive migrations of up to 7,000km to search for food prior to the molting season.

Galapagos Penguin

The smallest of the Banded Penguins and the northernmost of all penguin species, the Galapagos Penguin is designated as “Endangered.” El Niño events have severely affected populations of this penguin over the last 50 years.  Predictive modeling of El Niño patterns has described a 30% chance of extinction for this species within the next century.

Gentoo Penguin

The Gentoo Penguin is noted as “Least Concern.” These plucky birds may actually be the penguin “winners” of climate change – as their Sub-Antarctic populations have stabilized in recent years, their Antarctic populations are seeing massive increases. Recent genetic and physical evidence has been uncovered suggesting that the Gentoo Penguin, while currently split into two subspecies, would be more accurately described as four separate species! It’s up to the scientific community now to analyze the merits of this assessment.

Photograph of two Gentoo Penguins, both penguins are facing to the side of the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

Humboldt Penguin

Classified as “Vulnerable,” surveys of Humboldt Penguin populations over the last several decades have revealed considerable uncertainty in past population estimates. However, we do know that this species is heavily affected by El Niño events, which massively decrease available food and cause widespread mortality and breeding failure.

Photograph of two King Penguins on the grass. One penguin is facing the camera and the other is to the side.
Source: Penguins International Photo Library

King Penguin

The King Penguin is the second-largest species behind its cousin, the Emperor Penguin. King Penguins are listed as “Least Concern,” but fairly recent studies have showed wildly different population trends in different parts of their range. According to a 2018 study on South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic, King Penguins have seen a remarkable recovery over the last century after severe historical exploitation for their oil. In the same year, another study was published detailing an 88% decline in the population of this species at a colony in the Crozet Islands.

Little Penguin

The smallest species of penguin is designated as “Least Concern” as populations are stable in most locations. However, these tiny birds remain highly vulnerable to human threats such as coastal development, death by domestic pets, invasive and introduced species, and human disturbance at nesting colonies. Sites without active protection have declined severely over time.

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguins are classified as “Vulnerable.” Though some local populations are stable, overall global populations are steadily decreasing. Macaroni Penguins are an incredible example of these flightless seabirds inhabiting some pretty extreme environments as one breeding island is actually the summit of an underwater volcano and has erupted multiple times since the 1990s!

Photograph of two Magellanic Penguins in their burrow.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Magellanic Penguin

The Magellanic Penguin is listed as “Least Concern,” populations trends are varied across their range. Penguin populations continue to keep scientists on their toes; in 2020 a previously unknown colony of Magellanic Penguins was discovered, hidden among a nesting colony of Rockhopper Penguins that was being surveyed.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin

The Northern Rockhopper, found on Sub-Antarctic Islands off the southern coastline of Africa is considered “Endangered.” The splitting of the Rockhoppers into two distinct species is a fairly recent occurrence, with evidence presented by Jouventin et al. in 2006. The Northern Rockhopper remains the less studied of the two species, though human exploitation likely played a part in historical declines and current declines continue in present day populations.

Royal Penguin

The Royal Penguin is “Near Threatened,” and is only found in one population around Macquarie Island south of New Zealand. The population seems to have recovered from historical exploitation though the last substantial survey of the species occurred in 1985.

Snares Penguin

The Snares Penguin is listed as “Vulnerable” due to its inhabitation of only a single group of islands south of New Zealand, the Snares Islands. While the population of the Snares Penguin is currently stable, with the entire population condensed in such a small area the species vulnerable to be widely effected by a single catastrophic event.

Photo of two Snares Penguins rubbing their bills together.
Photo from Macaulay Library
https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/293151181

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Southern Rockhopper Penguins encompass two subspecies, and together are considered “Vulnerable.” While there is evidence that populations are reproducing at high enough rates to stabilize themselves, several mass mortality events in recent decades, most lately in 2016, have continued to damage populations and delay recovery of the species. These mortality events, while still not fully understood, are thought to be linked to food shortages that accompany fluctuations in sea surface temperature.

Photograph of Yellow-eyed Penguin in tall grass.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Yellow-eyed Penguin

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin is the only extant species in its genus, and it designated as “Endangered.” Known in the Māori language as the “Hoiho,” the Yellow-eyed Penguin is native to the coasts and coastal island of southern New Zealand. Today is it one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated population of less than 3,000 mature individuals. Total declines in this species over the past 30 years estimated are to be between 50-75%. Organizations dedicated to their recovery, like the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, work closely to conserve and study this unique species, and restore suitable habitat for them throughout their range.

If you are curious to learn more about each of these penguin species, visit our penguin species page or click on the name of the penguin species listed above.

Check out our blog to learn about what actions you can take to preserve these iconic species! Consider donating to Penguins International to support our education and conservation efforts.

Read more about penguins in some of our other blogs:

© Abigail Pietrow 2021

Abigail Pietrow is a penguin keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Aquarium of Niagara.

Sources:

Baker, A. (2020, February 11). Climate Change is Decimating Antarctic Chinstrap Penguins. Retrieved January 08, 2021, from https://time.com/5781302/climate-change-is-decimating-the-chinstrap-penguins-of-antarctica/

BirdLife International. 2020. Aptenodytes forsteriThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697752A157658053. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697752A157658053.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Aptenodytes patagonicusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697748A184637776. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697748A184637776.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Eudyptes chrysocomeThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22735250A182762377. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22735250A182762377.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Eudyptes chrysolophusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697793A184720991. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697793A184720991.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Eudyptes moseleyiThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22734408A184698049. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22734408A184698049.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Eudyptes pachyrhynchusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697776A182279725. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697776A182279725.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2018. Eudyptes robustusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22697782A132602343. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22697782A132602343.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2018. Eudyptes schlegeliThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22697797A132603136. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22697797A132603136.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Eudyptes sclateriThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697789A131879000. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697789A131879000.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Eudyptula minorThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697805A184753545. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697805A184753545.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Megadyptes antipodesThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697800A182703046. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697800A182703046.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Pygoscelis adeliaeThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697758A157660553. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697758A157660553.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Pygoscelis antarcticusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697761A184807209. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697761A184807209.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Pygoscelis papuaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697755A157664581. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697755A157664581.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus demersusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697810A157423361. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697810A157423361.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus humboldtiThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697817A182714418. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697817A182714418.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus magellanicusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697822A157428850. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697822A157428850.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus mendiculusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697825A182729677. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697825A182729677.enDownloaded on 07 January 2021.

Clucas, Gemma & Dunn, M. & Dyke, Gareth & Emslie, Steven & Levy, Hila & Naveen, Ron & Polito, Michael & Pybus, Oliver & Rogers, Alex & Hart, Tom. (2014). A reversal of fortunes: Climate change ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in Antarctic Peninsula penguins. Scientific reports. 4. 5024. 10.1038/srep05024.

De Lazaro, E. (2020, January 21). Researchers Discover New Colony of Magellanic Penguins. Retrieved January 07, 2021, from http://www.sci-news.com/biology/colony-magellanic-penguins-08034.html

Foley, Catherine & Hart, T. & Lynch, H.. (2018). King Penguin populations increase on South Georgia but explanations remain elusive. Polar Biology. 41. 10.1007/s00300-018-2271-z.

Hays, Coppelia. (1986) Effects of the 1982-82 El Niño on Humboldt Penguin Colonies in Peru. Biological Conservation 36: 169-180.

Joshua Tyler, Matthew T. Bonfitto, Gemma V. Clucas, Sushma Reddy, Jane L. Younger. Morphometric and genetic evidence for four species of gentoo penguin. Ecology and Evolution, 2020 DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6973

Jouventin, P., Cuthbert, R. J., and Ottvall, R. (2006). Genetic isolation and divergence in sexual traits: evidence for the northern rockhopper penguin Eudyptes moseleyi being a sibling species. Molecular Ecology 15, 3413–3423. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2006.03028.x

Mattern T, Pütz K, Garcia-Borboroglu P, Ellenberg U, Houston DM, et al. (2018) Marathon penguins – Reasons and consequences of long-range dispersal in Fiordland penguins / Tawaki during the pre-moult period. PLOS ONE 13(8): e0198688. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198688

Morgenthaler, A., E. Frere, A. Raya Rey, C. Torlaschi, P. Cedrola, E. Tiberi, R. Lopez, E. Mendieta, M. L. Carranza, S. Acardi, N. Collm, P. Gandini, A. Millones. (2018) Unusual number of Southern Rockhopper Penguins, Eudyptes chrysocome, molting and dying along the Southern Patagonian coast of Argentina: pre-molting dispersion event related to adverse oceanographic conditions? Polar Biology 41(5): 1041-1047. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-018-2264-y

Philip N. Trathan, B. Wienecke, C. Barbraud, S.Jenouvrier, G. Kooyman, C. Le Bohec, D.G. Ainley, A. Ancel, D.P. Zitterbart, S. L. Chown, M. LaRue, R. Cristofari, J. Younger, G. Clucas, C-A Bost, J. A. Brown, H. J. Gillett, P. T. Fretwell. (2020) The emperor penguin – Vulnerable to projected rates of warming and sea ice loss.

Biological Conservation 241: 108216

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108216.https://theconversation.com/robben-island-joins-list-of-20-new-protected-marine-sites-in-south-africa-118794

Previously unknown ‘supercolony’ of 1.5 million penguins discovered in Antarctica. (2018, March 02). Retrieved January 08, 2021, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/antarctica-penguins-supercolony-adelie-climate-change-unknown-discovered-danger-islands-a8236121.html

Sherley, RB,  Crawford, RJM,  de Blocq, AD, et al.  The conservation status and population decline of the African penguin deconstructed in space and timeEcol Evol.  2020108506– 8516https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.6554

University of Bath. “Gentoo penguins are four species, not one, say scientists.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 November 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201103191001.htm.

Vargas, F.H., Lacy, R.C., Johnson, P.J., Steinfurth, A., Crawford, R.J.M., Boersma, P.D. and Macdonald, D.W. 2007. Modelling the effects of El Niño on the persistence of small populations: the Galápagos Penguin as a case study. Biological Conservation 137(1): 138-148.

Weimerskirch, H., Le Bouard, F., Ryan, P., & Bost, C. (2018). Massive decline of the world’s largest king penguin colony at Ile aux Cochons, Crozet. Antarctic Science 30(4): 236-242. Doi:10.1017/S0954102018000226

The Penguin Glow: Penguins Teach Us about Hope and Resilience

Magellanic Penguins by Charles Bergman

The Penguin Glow: Penguins Teach Us about Hope and Resilience

By Charles Bergman, author of Every Penguin in the World: A Quest to See Them All

My wife, Susan Mann, and I were sitting on a chunk of ice on the shore of Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula. A light snow was falling. We had stopped here to watch a Gentoo Penguin sitting on an egg in its nest of pebbles.

The penguin rose to its feet. Its bright orange beak pointed to a small hole in the egg. We could see the tip of the chick’s beak. A penguin was hatching.

It seemed almost miraculous. In this harsh climate—one of the most unforgiving places on earth—we watched as this tiny chick emerged from the egg.

For seventeen years, my wife Susan and I traveled throughout the Southern Hemisphere on a quest to see all eighteen of the world’s species of penguins in the wild. Our journeys took us to some of the wildest and most remote places on the planet. This was one of the most memorable moments in our quest because it embodied something at the heart of the appeal penguins have for us.

Penguins offer living lessons in hope and resilience.

Gentoo Penguin with chick hatching by Charles Bergman
Gentoo Penguin with its chick hatching from an egg
Photo credit: Charles Bergman

We find ourselves slouching into a new year. Weary, worried, and burdened, we are living through a dark time of an out-of-control virus, the violence in our presidential election, and a planet careening toward disaster. Penguins are one of the best antidotes to despair that I know.

The most beloved birds in the world, penguins can help provide hope and relieve the gloom in three ways: through an intimate connection to wild animals, the transformative power of awe and wonder, and the healing effects of laughter.

Magellanic Penguins by Charles Bergman
Magellanic Penguins gathering together at dusk at El Pedral Reserve, Punta Ninfas, Argentina.
Photo credit: Charles Bergman

Lesson 1: An Intimate Connection to Wild Animals

One of my favorite places on the Antarctic Peninsula is Port Lockroy. Founded as a British research station, it now also has a gift shop and post office. You can mail post-cards from here that will travel through the United Kingdom and on to your friends and family, bearing an Antarctic postmark. Research on the Gentoo Penguins is on-going and long-term.

Penguins are everywhere. Several are nesting under the porch. Some are standing on the porch. You will encounter them on the path. The penguins always have the right of way.

The last time I was at Port Lockroy, three pairs of penguins were nesting on a large rock near the entrance to the building. They were right next to the path and at eye level on the rock.

Each nest had two chicks. It was a great place to linger and watch the penguins interact with their chicks. It was an intimate encounter, a chance to linger and enter into their world.

Gentoo Penguin with its chicks at Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Photo by Charles Bergman
Gentoo Penguin with its chicks at Port Lockroy, Antarctica.
Photo credit: Charles Bergman

A central element of the charm of penguins in Antarctica was on full display. They offer a wildlife experience like no other in the world. The penguins do not flee from you. You can sit beside nesting penguins—even with chicks—and they don’t scramble away. They are gloriously unafraid of people. In fact, you may encounter a penguin that will waddle right up to you, look you in the eye, its head tilting and its eyes unblinking, trying to figure you out.

I have had penguins hop onto my boots as I was photographing. As I lay on the ground to take a photo, one penguin nipped at my pants and my jacket. I have had penguins come right up to the camera and peer at me through the lens.

Emperor Penguin chicks at Snow Hill, Antarctica.
Photo credit: Charles Bergman

Plus, with penguins, the cute factor is off the charts. At Port Lockroy, the parents and the chicks were incredibly cute. The chicks had huge stomachs, tiny wings, and sweet faces. The tender solicitations of the parents were intimate and moving.

The encounters are magical, moving, and unforgettable. They will remind you of the restorative power of contact with wild animals. They’re models of resilience.

Lesson 2: The Necessity of Awe and Wonder

Antarctica is a continent of wonders, at once humbling in its vastness and daunting in its ferocious beauty.

On one memorable trip to the peninsula, we anchored next to “Iceberg Alley.” It’s a kind of backwater where icebergs have run aground and are stranded. Small groups of Adélie Penguins often rest on these icebergs.

We got into Zodiacs, the inflatable boats that take us to shore or, as in this case, enable us to wander among the arrested icebergs. Wind and sun have carved the icebergs into a fantasy-land of dreamy shapes.

You may think of Antarctica as a white continent. But the ice often glows, as the icebergs here did, in exquisite shades of blue. The whole scene stretches your mind and lights up your imagination.

In the midst of this strange world of sculpted ice, we were astonished to discover four humpback whales feeding on krill. We spent an hour with them. They often came up near us. They were much bigger than the Zodiacs. Each one weighed about 25 tons.

Chinstrap Penguin with chicks. Photo by Charles Bergman
Chinstrap Penguin with chicks at Hydrurga Rocks, Antarctica.
Photo credit: Charles Bergman

The scope and scale of the world in Antarctica is staggering. Antarctica and its wildlife will make you feel small. It’s similar to the feeling you get with penguins. Their tender intimacies contrast dramatically with the vast immensity and the unforgiving harshness of the surrounding landscapes.

They will leave you with a sense of awakened wonder and awe. I find these moments in Antarctica humbling, in a deeply ethical and transformative way. You may feel small, but you do not feel insignificant.

As one of the great heroes of Antarctic exploration, Ernest Shackleton, put it, “You feel bigger in the bigness of the whole.”  

Lesson 3: The Healing Power of Laughter

It’s almost impossible to feel miserable in the company of penguins. Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps even defeated and near despair. Penguins are invaluable as diversion and consolation. They will almost certainly make you laugh. They put a smile on your face.

A line of penguins parades past you, with their characteristic and comical waddle, so serious, so purposeful, so pretentious even. Then one will slip on the ice and do a faceplant in the snow. Or one suddenly slaps a neighbor with its flipper, and they break into a screaming chase.

Pride and a pratfall. Slapstick on ice.

You can’t help but laugh. They are the beloved clowns at the bottom of the world.

One time I was photographing a colony of Gentoo Penguins, all faced to the sea, looking in the direction of the setting sun. As a spectacular sunset began to fill the sky, I walked around behind them. I wanted a photo of penguins watching the sunset.

Gentoo Penguins at sunset in the Falkland Islands.
Photo credit: Charles Bergman

I busied myself with my tripod and camera, getting ready for the shot. Then I looked up again. I had to laugh out loud. All of the penguins had turned around. They were now facing me. I found myself wondering, who exactly is watching whom?

As I photographed them watching me, I had a smile on my face the whole time.

A connection with animals, a sense of wonder and awe, and a comic charm—the feeling you get in the company of penguins is unlike that of any other creature. My wife and I have a name for this unique penguin feeling, which is both healing and hopeful. We call it the penguin glow.

Our darkened world needs more of the penguin glow right now.

Charles Bergman is author of Every Penguin in the World: A Quest to See Them All
He can be contacted at
bergman [at] plu.edu

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Picking the perfect penguin partner

Northern Rockhopper Penguins

Picking the Perfect Penguin Partner, AKA Using “The Studbook”

By Lorna Moffat, Penguin Keeper

Zoos use a studbook to keep track of penguin lineage

What does a male or female penguin look for in a mate? Is it being gifted the perfect pebble? Winning the desired nest spot? Sporting a thickest bonnet or longer crest than the average male? There is a lot to consider and picking the perfect penguin partner is vital to producing the strongest offspring.
Gentoo pair ecstatic calls
Gentoo penguins
Northern Rockhopper Penguins
Image 1: Bonded Gentoo Penguin pair ecstatic displaying (trumpeting), Image 2: Nesting Gentoo Penguin, Image 3: Northern Rockhopper pair sitting on egg
Photo credit: Lorna Moffat

First, a little background information on Gentoo Penguins

Classed as “Least Concern” under the IUCN Red List 3, Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua) face many threats in the wild including over-fishing, plastic pollution, and rising sea temperatures. With an estimated 390,000 wild breeding pairs, distributed along Crozet Island, Falkland Island and South Georgia 3, all chicks that hatch are crucial to future generations. Conservation efforts are ongoing to not only protect penguins, but the ecosystem as a whole: i.e. Falkands Conservation analyse breeding success annually via population counts, maintain nesting sites and good relationships with local fisheries 5.

Gentoo Penguin colony
Image 4: A Gentoo Penguin breeding colony on Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands
Photo credit: Lorna Moffat

Breeding management in captive populations = Studbooks

With wild breeding success fluctuating each year, zoos and aquariums work hard to maintain global captive populations through breeding programmes to sustain genetic diversity as well as providing them with high standards of husbandry with regards to veterinary care, enclosure design and nutritional requirements.

Gentoo Penguin with two chicks
Image 5: Colin and his two chicks at EZ – each chick being identified by a coloured “scooby” band
Photo credit: Lorna Moffat
 

Most zoos and aquariums are members of an accredited regional organisation such as EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria), ZAA (Zoo and Aquarium Association) or AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquaria). Each association has established Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs) – groups which specialise in a group of animals such as penguins, birds, cats. One role of a TAG is to implement how each species is managed with regards to breeding – assessing the conservation status, global/captive population status and what species is housed where 4. Different regions have their own established breeding programmes: European Gentoo populations are managed as an ESB (European studbook) by RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, and as a Green SSP (Species Survival Plan) Programme by Sydney Aquarium (Australia) and San Diego SeaWorld (North America) 1. It is important that regional holders keep in close contact with each other in order to sustain captive populations.

Studbook keepers manage the studbooks

Studbook keepers are people with a specialised interest in and has worked (or working with) the species. However, it is not as simple as putting 20 males in with 20 females and breeding as many chicks as possible. Managing colonial species such as penguins is different to species like tigers: one male + one female = cubs. You cannot predict which birds will pair up together meaning that each colony should have the correct genetic diversity limiting chances of inbreeding between related birds. Studbooks are designed to be able to analyse these genetic demographics via databases such as ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System) (previously via SPARKS) 4. Every bird entered into the database has their own record (an equivalent to a “Tinder” profile), holding information such as hatch date, location, sex, rearing type, taxonomy, local identity number, tags, chips and most importantly – parental lineage. All this information is pulled from their own animal record which is why ZIMS is a great platform as it holds all information (medical notes, husbandry notes, weights, pedigree line) on one database.

A studbook keeper’s main role is to maintain these records, as well as analyse the genetics of each colony and make recommendations to institutes (i.e. swapping 10 birds with another collection). With over 800 Gentoos from 37+ institutes being listed on the ESB on ZIMS, it is essential that all collections hold accurate animal records as this information could be crucial with where the bird is housed and with whom.

And then there are sub-species of penguins (likely to be classified as new species someday)

Another thing to consider are sub-species. Gentoos that breed farther south in colder temperatures are subtly morphologically different to Northern populations, meaning that there are two classified sub-species: the Southern species (Pygoscelis papua ellsworthi) that breed on the Peninsula (South Orkney/Nelson Island) and the larger, Northern (Falkland) species (Pygoscelis papua papua). These morphological differences are very subtle and may be down to varied oceanic conditions 5. Gentoos that have unknown wild lineage in captivity are classed as Pygoscelis papua. With these sub-species in mind, many collections have specific species – i.e. Loro Parque in Tenerife and SeaWorld in North America have the Falklands line, and The Deep in England have predominantly Ellsworthi line. This means that it is easier to keep captive lines pure with the knowledge of where their wild genes originated from and attempt to eliminate hybridisation. 

Penguin breeding success at Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo (Royal Zoological Society of Scotland) has had great breeding success over the past 60 years with a current population of 96 gentoos being housed with 25 Northern Rockhopper (Eudyptes moseleyi) and 5 King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus). The zoo was also the first captive collection in the world to successfully breed the famous King Penguin. There are many factors aiding this breeding success: Established breeding protocols, high standards of husbandry as well as a team of dedicated keepers. By keeping in contact with institutions that hold the species, this means that teams can share methods and give out advice aiding in improved husbandry guidelines as well as higher chick survival rates.

Gentoo Penguin building its nest
Image 6: Gentoo Penguin nest-site at “Penguins Rock”, Edinburgh Zoo
Photo credit: Lorna Moffat

Edinburgh penguins are identified by coloured flipper-bands located on the left flipper for female, right for male (devised of coloured hama beads threaded onto cable ties) This means that during the breeding season accurate information such as sire, dam and clutch records can be kept which will then be entered onto ZIMS. It is vital to know who the sire and dam are of each chick, to prevent inbreeding, passing on of traits such as leucism breeding from birds that are over-represented in the colony as well as tracing genetic lineages.  

Gentoo Penguin in artificial nest
Image 7: Gentoo Penguin “Kevin” at EZ with gold flipper-band on right flipper as form of identity.
Photo credit: Lorna Moffat

The studbook: Essential to the survival of the various penguin species

Maintaining studbooks means that genetic lineages can be traced back to wild birds that were brought into captivity (100+ years ago) when it was legal practice to remove birds/eggs from the wild. Birds that have wild genes only a few generations up the line (i.e. grandparents) are desired individuals to breed from as their genes are more under-represented in than birds that have wild genes 8 generations up the line.

The IUCN issued a ‘Captive Breeding Policy’ in 1987 stating that all zoos holding wild animals should aim to achieve self-sustaining, genetically diverse populations – and today this is being carried out by zoos and aquariums; not just by breeding genetically viable offspring, but by educating visitors on the role of good zoos and how they are helping the species not just in captivity, but in the wild too.

Uncover more fascinating facts in some of our other blogs:

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References

  1. Association of Zoos and Aquariums (2019). Species Survival Plan (SSP) Programme. [Online]. Available at: https://www.aza.org/species-survival-plan-programs
  2. Borboroglu, P.G. & Boersma, P.D. (2013). Penguins: Natural History and Conservation.
  3. Birdlife International. (2019). Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua). [Online]. Available at: http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/gentoo-penguin-pygoscelis-papua/text
  4. EAZA (European Association of Zoo and Aquaria) (2019). Specialist programmes. [Online]. Available at: https://www.eaza.net/conservation/programmes/
  5. Falklands Conservation. (2019). Conservation Action. [Online]. Available at: https://www.falklandsconservation.com/conservation-action

What do you call a group of penguins?

King Penguin Waddle

What do you call a group of penguins?

By Abigail Pietrow, Penguin Keeper

A “pride” of lions, a “pod” of dolphins, a “murder” of crows… There are plenty of different names for groups of animals. Some are familiar, like herds or packs, and some are wacky, like a “smack” of jellyfish or an “embarrassment” of pandas. These terms often have their roots in unusual or notable traits of the group they describe. Examples of this might include a “prickle” of porcupines or a “romp” of otters!

So, what in the world do we call a group of penguins?

It turns out the answer to that question depends on several different things, like age, location, and activity. A group of penguins is called many things. Let’s start with…

(1) A group of penguins is called a Waddle!

Everyone knows that penguins waddle. It’s one of their most endearing traits and is a result of their skeletal anatomy and hydrodynamic adaptations.

This is one of those group terms that come from a notable characteristic of the species. Specifically, it is often used to describe a group of penguins on land that are on the move!

(2) A group of penguins is called a Colony or a Rookery! 

Penguins are social birds, and during the breeding season and other times of the year they congregate on land in groups of hundreds or even thousands of individuals! These large breeding groups are referred to as a colony or rookery. Penguins show a high degree of site-fidelity and will typically return to the same location, and sometimes even the same nest site, year after year.

Rockhopper Penguin Colony
Source: Penguins International photo library

(3) A group of penguins is called a Crèche! 

A crèche is a group of chicks that band together for safety in numbers while their parents hunt. This term can also be defined as “a place where young children are cared for during the day while their parents do something else.” So, kind of like a penguin daycare!

Within breeding colonies, penguin parents are hard at work raising chicks. This requires sharing of guard duty while the other parent is feeding at sea to bring back food for the young ones. However, penguin chicks grow very quickly. After a certain point, usually around 4-5 weeks, the chicks are big enough that they no longer need the parent to help keep them warm and they require enough food that both parents need to be fishing more regularly to keep the chicks sufficiently fed. Chicks will group together for safety while their parents are at sea. These crèches are most often seen in surface-nesting species, as chicks of burrow-nesting species like the banded penguins and Little Blue penguin will usually remain in their own sheltered nest while waiting for their parents to return.

Gentoo Penguin chicks in a creche
Source: Penguins International photo library

(4) A group of penguins is called a Raft!

This term is used to describe a group of penguins in the water. Penguins eat an exclusively seafood diet, and so spend quite a large portion of their time at sea hunting. Penguins will not only dive to hunt for food in the ocean but will also spend periods of time floating at the surface to rest or preen their feathers. Such a group of floating birds is likely what inspired the descriptive term!

Abigail Pietrow is a penguin keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Aquarium of Niagara.

Who knew there were so many different names for a group of these flightless birds? Which one did you find most interesting? Share your thoughts with us in the comments! Please help us continue to share more penguin stories by donating to Penguins International.

Uncover more fascinating facts in some of our other blogs:

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References

Borboroglu, P. G. & Boersma, P. D. (2013). Penguins: Natural history and conservation. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

CRÈCHE: Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (2020). Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/creche

Mendoran, S. (2018, October 27). A Comprehensive List of Animal Group Names – Owlcation – Education. Retrieved October 20,2020, from https://owlcation.com/stem/collective-names-for-groups-of-animals

Penguins. (2020). Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://seaworld.com/educational-resources/penguins/

Can Penguins Smell?

Gentoo Penguin

Can Penguins Smell?

By Abigail Pietrow, Penguin Keeper

There are lots of common questions that I’m often asked as a Penguin Keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara:Can Penguins Breathe Underwater?”  “What do penguins eat?”Why are penguins black and white?” It sometimes seems like the curiosity directed towards our flightless feathered friends is endless, but is generally directed towards some common topics from day to day. I was surprised this past week by an uncommon question that came from two different individuals within the span of a couple of days: Can penguins smell? In order to answer that question I had to do a little digging, and what I found was pretty interesting!

What do seabirds smell?

Up until the mid-1900s it was widely assumed that birds did not have a sense of smell. This belief was based on the results of a few small studies, differences in nasal anatomy, and the fact that the olfactory bulb in most bird species (the organ in the brain responsible for the sense of smell) was much smaller than that of mammals when examined. More recently, scientists specifically studying this sense in birds have uncovered a very different truth – many birds have a well-developed sense of smell.

Tube-nosed seabirds in particular (Order Procellariiformes), like Albatrosses and Shearwaters, have highly developed olfactory systems. These systems are tuned to search out dimethyl sulfide (DMS), a very particular compound released when krill consume phytoplankton. Krill is an important food source for many seabirds, and following the scent trail of this compound can help these birds locate patches of food in the vast distances of the open ocean.

Consequences of DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide) Sensitivity in Birds

Unfortunately, feasting krill are not the only source of DMS in our oceans today. Plastic and micro-plastic pollution in our oceans is an ever-increasing environmental issue. An analysis performed in 2015 extrapolated that if pre-existing plastic ingestion studies from 1962-2012 were conducted under current oceanic conditions, then the percentage of seabirds surveyed with plastic in their digestive system would likely be closer to 90% compared to the 29% from previous decades.

It has been theorized in the past that the basis for this phenomenon is primarily visual – that plastic is eaten when it is mistaken for prey species while foraging.

A study conducted in 2016 sought to investigate other explanations for why seabirds ingest so much plastic debris. They tested the three most common types of plastic found in marine debris and found that after only one month in the ocean, these samples were coated in a biological film that produced DMS at a level detectable by tube-nosed seabirds. Their results suggest that part of the reason seabirds are eating so much plastic is because it smells like food to them too!

Sense of Smell in Penguins

Tube-nosed seabirds are generally considered to be some of the closest living relatives to modern penguins. While these evolutionary relationships are still under investigation, penguins do share some of the same adaptations for smell as other seabirds. African Penguins have been shown to have a similar sensitivity to DMS, as well as being attracted by the scent of this compound both on land and at sea.

They posses a single nostril called a “nare” on either side of their beak, and while their olfactory bulbs are relatively small compared to other seabirds, the organ is still larger than many land-based bird species. This reduction in size is paired with a reduction in the amount of olfactory receptor genes in their DNA and likely a reduced sense of smell compared to other waterbirds. However, some scientists hypothesize that this reduction in reliance on smell correlates with evolution of other adaptations penguins developed to hunt effectively under the surface like spherical lenses and flattened corneas for improved underwater vision.

Sniffing out Friends and Family

Penguins may also use their sense of smell for another important task. While many have now studied how birds can use their sense of smell for important functions like navigation and foraging, one fascinating study looked at how Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) might use their sense of smell to recognize mates or family members.

The scientists used oil samples from the preen gland of penguins to test whether individuals reacted differently to the scent of unfamiliar penguins than they did to family or neighbors.  They found that the studied penguins preferentially investigated unfamiliar and non-kin smells when presented with a choice. This could have implications for how penguins avoid inbreeding when choosing a mate in their natal colony!

What action can you take?

While penguins seem to be less likely to ingest plastic at the same rate as other seabird species, ingestion is not the only risk that plastic pollution in our oceans poses. Plastic entanglement is an issue facing many marine species, penguins included.

African Penguin entangled in discarded plastic.
Source: Avery, 2018.

Reducing your use of single-use plastics is one of the most effective ways to reduce your plastic footprint and helps keep plastic out of the world’s landfills and oceans! Instead of single-use items, reusable alternatives can be a planet-friendly way to make a difference for wildlife!

© Abigail Pietrow 2020

Abigail Pietrow is a penguin keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Aquarium of Niagara.

Did you know that penguins could smell? Let us know in the comments what you found most interesting! Please help us continue to learn more about penguins by donating to Penguins International.

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

References

Coffin, H R, J V Watters, J M Mateo. 2011. Odor-based recognition of familiar and related conspecifics: a first test conducted on captive humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti). PLoS ONE 6(9): e25002. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025002

Dell’Ariccia, G., Phillips, R. A., Van Franeker, J. A., Gaidet, N., Catry, P., Granadeiro, J. P., … & Bonadonna, F. (2017). Comment on “Marine plastic debris emits a keystone infochemical for olfactory foraging seabirds” by Savoca et al. Science advances, 3(6), e1700526.

Lu, Q. et al. 2016. Penguins reduced olfactory receptor genes common to other waterbirds. Sci. Rep. 6, 31671; doi: 10.1038/srep31671

Nevitt, G A. 2008. Sensory ecology on the high seas: the odor world of the procellriiform seabirds. The Journal of Experimental Biology (211) 1706-1713. doi:10.1242/jeb.015412

Pinto, M. B., Siciliano, S., & Di Beneditto, A. P. M. (2007). Stomach contents of the Magellanic penguin Spheniscus magellanicus from the northern distribution limit on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Marine Ornithology, 35, 77-78.

Ryan, P. G. (2018). Entanglement of birds in plastics and other synthetic materials. Marine pollution bulletin, 135, 159-164.

Savoca M, M E Wohlfeil, S E Ebeler, G A Nevitt. 2016. Marine plastic debris emits a keystone infochemical for olfactory foraging seabirds. Sci Adv 2 (11) e1600395. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600395

Watanabe M, et al. 2006. New candidate species most closely related to penguins. Gene (378) 65-73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gene.2006.05.003

Wilcox C, E Van Sebille, B D Hardesty. 2015. Threat of pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing. PNAS 112 (38) 11899-11904. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1502108112

Wright, K L B, L Pichegru, P G Ryan. 2011. Penguin are attracted to dimethyl sulfide at sea. The Journal of Experimental Biology (214) 2509-2511. doi:10.1242/jeb.058230

 

Sources:

Averett, N. (2014). Birds Can Smell, And One Scientist is Leading the Charge to Prove It. [online.] Audubon Magazine. Available from: https://www.audubon.org/magazine/january-february-2014/birds-can-smell-and-one-scientist [Accessed 07 October 2020].

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 07 October 2020].

Could playgrounds hold the key to protecting penguins?

Nature and wildlife garden

Could playgrounds hold the key to protecting penguins?
(And the rest of the world’s biodiversity)

By Beth Storey-Jones

The idea of teaching our children/young adults to be ecologically conscious citizens can feel daunting. But this is important now more so than ever before. Children are typically known for their curiosity and fascination with the great outdoors. However, due to the increasing reliance on technology, natural interaction is at an all-time low. A study carried out by Mental Health Foundation showed that 95% of 11-19-year olds use social media with 79% of them using it daily. Those that used it on a regular basis expressed that it manipulated their mood and how they saw themselves [1]. It is also widely understood that due to their physiology and metabolic systems, children are becoming increasingly more vulnerable to the environmental toxins pumped into our atmosphere every year [2,3]. With potential evidence of this being the unprecedented number of American children effected by asthma [4] and 1 in 500 UK children receiving a cancer diagnosis under the age of 15 [5]. These are just a few examples of the extremely important reasons why environmental health and education should be incorporated into our global educational systems sooner rather than later.

The “Surplus Energy Theory”

In 1855, Herbert Spencer released his works, Principals of Psychology, in which he introduced us to the “surplus energy theory” which suggested that the purpose of play for children was predominantly to “burn off steam”. This has since been rejected by many developmental theorists; however, it has still shaped how outdoor access is utilised in mainstream education [6].

When we consider a generic school playground or park, it is often filled with manmade structures, such as climbing frames, slides, and swings. Flat concreted areas for easy maintenance [7] and compact enough for surveillance. All of which are understandable, however these lack any kind of opportunity for children to connect with their natural environment, which is usually just a fence hop away [8].

Playground
Image 1: A standard school playground. Some may also have climbing apparatus. They vary in size but are often not so large that they cannot be monitored.  (Source: Tomas Tezanos B., Wikimedia Commons).

How to create this developmental interaction.

Aside from intensive urbanisation [9] children today are faced with other boundaries restricting them from this important developmental interaction, even while at home. These range from parents fearing their child’s safety, an example of this being “stranger danger” [10]. Additionally, it has been suggested that there is increasing pressure on children to spend more time learning and participating in a structured routine to contend with the ever-competitive career ladder.

As this societal grip grows, children are losing the understanding that nature exists as soon as they step out of their front doors. Reality is being replaced by the virtual and they are turning their heads to media. They are being conditioned to believe that nature is primarily found in faraway exotic places which they’re unlikely to ever experience [11]. This in turn severs any emotional connection and thus continues the exploitation of our natural areas due to lack of understanding and compassion [12].

Child and computer
Image 2: Children are becoming heavily reliant on technology, both in and outside of school. Technology is not a bad resource, but when abused or not moderated, it can have concerning lasting impacts. (Source: Hragaby, Wikimedia Commons).

So, what can be done to change this…

The simple first step could be to naturalise the play spaces that children utilise during break/lunch times at school. This may include some or all of the following:

  • Exchanging tarmacked areas with native grass, wildflower and/or vegetable patches, trees and shrubbery. All of which would benefit our native animal populations.
  • Introduction of different terrains and substrates such as sand, soils, and water which will also provide resources for many different species of animals
  • Access to the changing seasons. This will allow children to experience different types of weather, sounds and natural light. As well as a range of textures, colours, and materials.
rspb-flatford-wildlife
Image 3: RSPB Flatford is a fantastic example of how education and wildlife appreciation can go hand in hand. With a variety of learning opportunities and biodiverse greenspaces, including this wildlife friendly garden. (Source: RSPB Flatford)

Help children learn about the environment on their own.

Children need to be given the chance to interact with their natural environment on their own terms, through exploration and discovery. Teaching children about problems that greatly surpass their cognitive ability, such as climate change, overpopulation and deforestation to name a few, can result in anxiety and fear which often leads to dissociation – or in this particular case “biophobia” [13]. The flaw in environmental education, especially for younger children, is that they’re being made to understand and learn how to fix these types of issues before they have even been able to create a positive association and connection to their natural surroundings. By allowing them this time to develop a more personal experience, the more likely it is that they will become proactive regarding the bigger issues when the time comes [14]. Additionally, a growing selection of academic research suggests that there are more profound benefits when exposing children of all abilities to nature. Studies show that:

  • Children living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) concentrate better after interacting with nature [15].
  • Wells (2003) suggests nature can help children cope better with adversity and stress.
  • Exposure to a range of natural environments can reduce or in some cases eliminate violent or anti-social behaviour, as well as bullying, vandalism and even littering [6].
  • Access to green areas from a young age helps develops a child’s sense of wonder, independence, confidence, and imagination. Which will also be beneficial throughout their lives [18].

But Beth, how does that in any way help penguins?!

Well, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Children have an extraordinary ability to cause a ripple effect, their wonder and curiosity are often contagious, drawing in those around them to see and experience what they are. The simple task of naturalising play areas will not only provide many species with increased green spaces/corridors and resources that they so desperately need, but it will also allow each individual child to learn in their own unique way through exploration and experimentation, all while building their confidence, conscientiousness, and creativity. Their consideration for all life on Earth will develop instinctively and in turn will allow them to become our natural world’s biggest advocates, that natural world includes our penguin pals!

Dr. Kate Barlow
Image 4: Here we can see British Antarctic survey biologist Dr. Kate Barlow observing Macaroni Penguins on South Georgia Island. This sort of career may seem out of reach to a child but something as simple as creating greener spaces for them to ignite their appreciation for the environment around them will create a deep rooted  connection that they may hold on to for life. (Source: Natural Environment Research Council, 2015).

Please follow this link and sign the petition to help naturalise play spaces within the U.K. http://chng.it/vqqGNgwP

Environmental education for children can make a huge impact on penguin conservation. Let us know what you think. 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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References

  1. Mental Health Foundation. (2018). What new statistics show about children’s mental health [Online]. Mental Health Foundation. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-new-statistics-show-about-childrens-mental-health [Accessed 22nd September 2020].
  2. Crom, W. (1994). Pharmacokinetics in the child. Environmental Health Perspectives. 102 111–117.
  3. Pastor, M., Sadd, J., and Morello-Frosch, R. (2002). Who’s minding the kids? Pollution, public schools and environmental justice in Los Angeles. Social Science Quarterly.  83, 263–280.
  4. American Public Health Association. (2007). Movement to reconnect children & nature. [Online]. American Public Health Association. Available from: http://www.apha.org/publications/tnh/archives/2007/Oct07/Nation/KidsandNatureNation.htm. [Accessed 22nd Sept 2020].
  5. Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group. (2014). Children and Young People with Cancer: A Parent’s Guide. [Online]. Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group. Available from: http://www.cclg.org.uk [Accessed 22nd Sept 2020].
  6. Malone, K. and Tranter, P. (2003). Children’s Environmental Learning and the Use, Design and Management of Schoolgrounds. Youth and Environments. 13, 87-137.
  7. Moore, R. and Wong, H. (1997). Natural Learning: Rediscovering Nature’s Way of Teaching. California, MIG Communications.
  8. Shell, E. (1994). Kids Don’t Need Equipment, They Need Opportunity, Smithsonian Magazine. 25, 78-87.
  9. Chawla, Louise, (1994). Knowing and Caring for the Natural Environment. Children’s Environments. 11, 175-176.
  10. Pyla, (2002). Eden in a vacant lot: Special places, species and kids in community of life. Children and nature: Psychological, sociocultural and evolutionary investigations. 279–305.
  11. Chipeniuk, R. (1995). Childhood foraging as a means of acquiring competent human cognition about biodiversity, Environment and Behavior. 27, 490-512.
  12. Schultz, W., Shriver, C., Tabanico, J. and Khazian, A. (2004) Implicit connections with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 24, 31-42.
  13. Kellert, S. (2002). Experiencing Nature: Affective, Cognitive, and Evaluative Development. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Cambridge, The MIT Press.
  14. Harvey, M. (1989). The Relationship between Children’s Experiences with Vegetation on Schoolgrounds. Journal of Environmental Education21, 9-18.
  15. Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F. and Sullivan, W. (2001). Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings. Environment & Behaviour. 33, 54-77.
  16. Wells, N., and Evans, G. (2003). Nearby Nature: A Buffer of Life Stress Among Rural Children. Environment and Behaviour, 35, 311-330.
  17. Louv, R. (1991). Childhood’s Future, New York, Doubleday.

 

Chinstrap Penguins: Risking Their Lives on Zavodovski Island

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguins: Risking Their Lives on Zavodovski Island

By Sian Liversage

We often think of penguin colonies as a magical place, full of cute fluffy chicks and amazing doting parents. However, these situations are far from the truth when you add some of the most dangerous seas and an active volcano spewing ash into the mix. 

Zavodovski Island – One of the largest Chinstrap Penguin colonies in the world

Chinstrap Penguins stand 75cm tall and are well known for their narrow band of black feathers that pass from ear to ear across the face and under the chin. One of the largest Chinstrap Penguin colonies in the world is on Zavodovski Island, situated in the South Sandwich Islands in Antarctica. With 7.5 million Chinstrap Penguins worldwide, the colony represents over one-seventh of the species’ global population. As well as this vast population, approximately 180,000 Macaroni Penguins are resident here too.

The Chinstraps arrive to breed during the October and November months to lay 2 small eggs on the ground in a nest that is lined with small stones. Eggs are incubated by both the males and females, where they will often incubate in stints of up to 6 days at a time. During this time, one penguin will be feeding on Antarctic krill and various other crustaceans of which the chicks rely on for growth and development, while the other penguin will keep the eggs warm and protected.

Chinstrap Penguin
A Chinstrap Penguin in Antarctica. Source: Penguins International Photo Library

In order to get the food though, the penguins must face treacherous waters and 30-foot cliffs that surround the island, risking severe injury or even worse – death. (see link below)

https://time.com/4660247/planet-earth-ii-clip-penguins/

These Chinstraps have to face catastrophic natural disasters to survive

Their strong feet and long claws allow them to grip to the rocks as best they can with some varying success, however, with the pounding waves it is inevitable that they won’t always succeed. To make things even more astounding, this isn’t the only hardship they go through. Not only do they have to endure the perilous seas every 6 days for weeks on end to feed their chicks, but they also face natural disasters too.

The volcanic eruption on Mount Curry severely threatened this penguin colony

Zavodovski Island is home to an active volcano, called Mount Curry. In 2016, it threatened more than 1 million Chinstrap Penguins, so much so that the population was in risk of being wiped out. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) stated that the volcano had erupted and covered the island in toxic smoke and ash. The penguins were in grave danger of the smoke causing breathing difficulties, and the volcanic discharge could have potentially burned them or buried them in ash. The timing was terrible for the poor birds, as it was during their annual moult which meant that they couldn’t swim to find safety. During moulting, the penguins lose their insulation and waterproofing as they shed their old feathers for new ones, therefore they are forced to stay on land and out of the water. 

Mt Curry
Mount Curry on Zavodovski Island erupted on March 2016.  Photo Credit: British Antarctic Survey

The penguins survived, but scientists have little ability to observe how they react to such an eruption

This is believed to have been the first time Zavodovski Island has been witnessed erupting, and it is thought that this event occurred following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake only a month before. Although this threat occurred a few years ago, to this day the volcano remains active and could easily erupt again leaving the penguins at its peril. With the island being so remote – over a thousand miles away from the nearest continental coastline – surveys cannot be undertaken regularly as the trip requires acute planning for the safety of the scientists involved. Therefore, the population could easily be wiped out without anyone even realising.

The impact that mother nature throws at this penguin colony is astonishing and often scientists are unsure what impact they will have on the health and survival of the population in the long run. Only by sending scientific expeditions to the region can they have a better understanding of how Chinstrap Penguins manage to survive these ongoing threats.

Did you ever imagine that penguins not only have to survive the harsh temperatures of Antarctica, but some penguins even have to live and survive around massive volcanic eruptions. Have you ever seen a volcanic eruption in person? Let us know what you think? 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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References

Ellenbroek, B. 2013 [updated 2017]. Chinstrap penguin. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Onlinewww.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Knapton, S. 2016. Penguins on world’s smelliest island in danger as volcano erupts, covering them in ash. Webpage: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/07/06/penguins-on-worlds-smelliest-island-in-danger-as-volcano-erupts/

Sidder, A. 2016. Erupting volcano may have destroyed huge penguin colony. Webpage: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/07/chinstrap-penguin-colony-volcano-threat-south-atlantic-ocean/

 

How Do Penguins Feed Their Chicks?

How Do Penguins Feed Their Chicks?

By Sian Liversage

It’s easy to say that you can learn a lot from watching a penguin colony, from their hunting behaviours to how they raise their chicks. Many of us have watched documentaries of penguins incubating and hatching their chicks, but one thing that has always baffled me and many others, is how do they store food to feed their chicks? It turns out, the answer isn’t as simple as you may think – there are multiple ways in which they care for their young as I explain below.

Penguins first must hunt for their food

All penguins hunt in the same way; they either catch their prey in the water or they can scrape krill off the underside of the ice. They do not have teeth, but instead have a very sharp bill to do this. Their mouths and tongues are lined with spines that point back towards their throat, making it easy for them to swallow prey such as squid, shrimp and fish.

Swallowing their food to store it for later 

If a penguin has chicks, it will catch and swallow its food, then “store” it for later to feed to its chicks. Of course, some will also be kept for themselves to enable the parent to continue to survive and hunt for prey. Chicks cannot digest food like their parents, therefore, the parents need to convert it into a form that the chicks can eat. There are a few ways of doing this; the first way is regurgitation; the second way is the equivalent to “refrigerating” the food; and finally, the third way is a secretion that is made from the digested food.

Regurgitation

This is when a penguin will catch its food and partially digest it, which will take a few hours. When the parent reaches its chick, and the food has been digested enough, it will cough the mixture back up and allowing the chick to eat it directly from the parent’s bill. This feeding method is often seen on documentaries so keep a lookout!

A Gentoo Penguin feeding its chick in Antarctica. Source: Penguins International Photo Library
A Gentoo Penguin chick getting a huge meal. Source: Penguins International Video Library

“Refrigeration”

This is a genius evolutionary method that enables penguins to keep food for several days. The parent will swallow the prey whole and store it inside their stomach. This food is kept at body temperature, and inside the stomach there are enzymes which prevent it from digesting.

Penguin “Milk”

When it comes to feeding their chicks, males and females will take turns. In some penguins, Emperor Penguins in particular, the male will care for the chick for several weeks while the female is out hunting and gorging on prey. During this time, the male produces a secretion to sustain the chick and ensure its survival. Penguins, being birds, don’t have “milk” like mammals do.  Instead, they produce this secretion which is sometimes called crop milk. This is a fatty, high protein food that is developed in their crop (a pouch in their throat) and given to chicks during key developmental stages. Although it is nothing like mammal milk, the benefits of this crop milk are very similar to the benefit young mammals get from milk. 

Inside of a penguin. Web: https://sciencing.com/penguins-feed-their-chicks-4567587.html

Conclusion

Chicks need constant feeding throughout their development in order to stay happy and healthy, and it can easily be said that without their parents’ remarkable evolutionary techniques and physiology, the chicks would no doubt perish. 

Penguins have such a different way of feeding that so many other species. Let us know what you think.  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:

References

E, Lee. 2019. How do penguins feed their chicks? Webpage: https://sciencing.com/penguins-feed-their-chicks-4567587.html

Penguin Science. Diet and Feeding answers. Webpage: https://www.penguinscience.com/education/ask_answers_1.php

Ocean Syrup. 2019. Do penguins make milk? Webpage: https://oceansyrup.com/do-penguins-make-milk/

“Meet the Flockers” – Myths of Monogamy

Southern Rockhopper Penguin pair

“Meet the Flockers” – Myths of Monogamy

By Martin Franklin

Monogamy

Monogamy can mean different things to different people, encompassing, for example:

  • Marital monogamy, i.e. marriages of only two people (in contrast to polygamy).
  • Social monogamy, i.e. two partners living together/sharing a territory and cooperating in securing basic resources (e.g. food and shelter).
  • Sexual monogamy, i.e. two partners having an exclusive sexual relationship.
  • Genetic monogamy i.e. sexual monogamy with DNA evidence of the two partners reproducing exclusively with each other. 

Monogamy within human societies

It has been suggested that few human societies are monogamous, despite what many of us like to believe. For example, of 1,231 societies reviewed in one study:

  • 186 were deemed monogamous; 
  • 453 displayed occasional polygyny (where a man has multiple wives simultaneously); 
  • 588 displayed frequent polygyny; and 
  • 4 displayed polyandry (where a woman has multiple husbands simultaneously).1

Monogamy within mammalian societies

It is reckoned that only around 3–5% of all mammal species are socially monogamous2,3, though around 29% of primate species are considered socially monogamous.4

One fairly accurate predictor as to whether males within a primate species are likely to be monogamous or have several sexual partners at one time is to look at their testicle size5,6. I would suggest, however, that for reasons of both safety and odour, one should not look too closely. 

The rule of thumb is that the smaller the testicles (relative to overall body size), the more likely that species is to be monogamous. Accordingly, for example, highly promiscuous male chimpanzees have relatively large testes (thus producing more sperm, with a corresponding impregnation advantage), whereas male gorillas have relatively small testes (as gorilla society has a polygynous mating system in which the dominant male avoids sperm competition by controlling access to females).

Monogamy within other taxa

In relation to non-mammalians, it is frequently suggested that while, for example, there are relatively few known examples of reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates being socially monogamous (one fascinating example being a common parasitic fluke that lives in human blood7, around 90% of birds are socially monogamous.8

Monogamy within avian societies 

By “monogamy within avian societies” I refer, of course, to the behaviour of birds of the same species, not people who belong to bird societies, not least as I assume that members of this latter group are typically lucky to engage in recreational copulation at all, let alone have the opportunity to acquire more than one sexual partner. (I may, or may not, belong myself to one or more such bird societies.)

But back to the point. “Monogamy” in birds may be considered “a prolonged pair bond with a single member of the opposite sex for purposes of raising young”.9 Unlike most reptiles and amphibians, that typically leave their eggs once laid, bird eggs (and subsequently chicks) typically need significant care from both parents (e.g. nest building, defense of the territory, incubation, and fetching food for the parent tending the egg(s)/chick(s) and/or the chick(s) themselves). Accordingly, it seems that most birds are indeed monogamous (at least socially).9

Exceptions within avian societies

It shouldn’t be assumed however, that such pair bonds will be “till death do us part”. 

While some birds (e.g. many parrots and eagles) do indeed form life-long pairs, others will only do so if their partner from the previous mating season arrives (post winter migration) within the same week (or so) at the nesting site (e.g. black-tailed gotwits). 

Others (e.g. female oystercatchers and female blue tits) will readily leave their partners if more attractive territories become offered by other suitors. 

Even within socially monogamous pairs, it’s now believed that birds are only very rarely sexually monogamous. 

One significant study found that in approximately 90% of the species studied there were “extra-pair offspring” (i.e. offspring fathered by a male other than the social father), and on average over 11% of offspring were not fathered by the social father.10 

Such behaviour may be an insurance against a mate’s potential infertility and/or way of ensuring genetic variability and/or robust immune systems in the offspring and/or (where the extra-pair copulation is with a male superior to the social father) offspring of improved quality and diversity.9 

Plus, of course, a significant minority of birds are polygynous (probably fewer than 10%). Broadly speaking, when the following occurs:

  • the more impressive the male’s song and more beautiful the male’s plumage (relative to the female); together with either
  • the ability of a male to control scarce resources (e.g. golden-backed weavers); or
  • there being no need for males to find food for their offspring (e.g. where there’s an abundance of fruit for frugivore species, as is the case for most birds-of-paradise)…
Southern Rockhopper Penguin pair
Southern Rockhopper Penguin pair (Source: Penguins International photo library)

…then the more likely it is to be a species where the male copulates with numerous females (or, as Iago might have put it to Brabantio, makes “the beast with two beaks”).9

Monogamy within penguin societies

What, then, of penguins? Given that in all penguin species, both the male and female play an essential extensive and complementary role in incubation and chick-rearing, and given that no individual can control available resources, we would expect widespread monogamy. 

Available evidence confirms this to be the case: all penguin species are believed to display widespread sexually monogamous behaviour each breeding season.11

Seasonal monogamy within penguin societies

That said, many individuals will choose a different mate from season to season. 

Across all penguin species, it is believed that, on average, around 60-90% of pairs remain together over successive seasons, though this drops as low as 15% in Emperor Penguins. 

One of the factors which seems to drive a pair to separate is the failure to find a partner that complements the often complicated nest-relief patterns of penguins (i.e. taking turns to incubate the egg/protect the chick(s) and hunt for food for the chick(s), in each case returning before the partner/chick(s) starve). Accordingly:

  • In species that take long turns on the nest (e.g. Adelie and Macaroni Penguins), if a pair fails to synchronise effectively and raise a chick in any given year, they are less likely to pair up again the next year. 
  • Conversely, there seems to be no such correlation in species that take frequent short turns on the nest (e.g. Gentoo Penguins).11
Humboldt Penguins copulating (© Martin Franklin/ZSL)

Penguin “cheaters”

Individual penguins are also known to “cheat” on their partners. For example, female Adelie Penguins may mate with a new male if their partner from the previous year is late returning to the nest site (following which such females have been observed returning to their former partner upon his arrival, and this cuckolded male then incubating the egg(s) fertilised by the first male). 

Similarly, my colleagues at ZSL London Zoo have observed a few individual female Humboldt Penguins regularly and openly mating with more than one male in the same season, with one particular individual regularly flitting between two adjacent nest-boxes, each occupied by males with whom she copulates.

So why stay together in the long-term?

Ultimately there seems (unlike in some birds, including skuas) to be no increased breeding success rate for penguin pairs that remain together for several seasons. Researchers have suggested, therefore, that many penguin pairs simply stay together because they have had offspring, and finding (or having to compete for) a new mate would be potentially too much trouble.11 And who says we anthropomorphise penguins too much?

© Martin Franklin 2019

Martin Franklin is a bird keeper at ZSL London Zoo, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of ZSL.

Penguins, monogamy, or cheaters…? Amazing what we have learned. Let us know what you think.  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

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References

1 Ethnographic Atlas, a database coded by George P. Murdock and published in 29 successive installments in the journal Ethnology, 1962-1980.

2 Kleiman, D. G. (1977). Monogamy in Mammals. The Quarterly Review of Biology. 52 (1): 39–69.

3 Lukas, D. and Clutton-Brock, T. (2012). Cooperative breeding and monogamy in mammalian societies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 279 (1736): 2151–6.

4 Lukas, D. Clutton-Brock, T. (2013). The Evolution of Social Monogamy in Mammals. Science. 341 (6145): 526–530.

5 Dixson, A. and Anderson, M. (2001). Sexual selection and the comparative anatomy of reproduction in monkeys, apes, and human beings. Annual Review of Sex Research. 12: 121–144. 

6 Harcourt, A. H., Harvey, P. H., Larson, S.G. and Short, R. V. (1981). Testis weight, body weight and breeding system in primates. Nature. 293 (5827): 55–57. 

7 Beltran, S. and Boissier, J. (2008). Schistosome monogamy: who, how, and why? Trends in Parasitology 24 (9): 386–91.

8 Lack, D. (1968). Ecological adaptations for breeding in birds. Science. 163: 1185–1187.

9 Gill, F. B. and Prum, R. O. (2019). Ornithology. (4th edition). W. H. Freeman and Company: New York.

10 Griffith, S. C., Owens, I. P. F. and Thuman, K. A. (2008). Extra pair paternity in birds: a review of interspecific variation and adaptive function. Molecular Ecology. 11: 2195-2212.

11 Williams, T. D. (1995). The Penguins. Oxford University Press: New York.

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