Posts Tagged ‘adelie penguins’

Have The Missing Adelie Penguins Rescued Themselves?

February 19, 2016

People who know me know I have a thing for penguins and everywhere I went this past week friends have mentioned if heard about the the demise of thousands of penguins in Antarctica?   My response was and is, people, people let’s give the penguins a little credit.

Yes, the news reported around the world was startling — that some 150,000 Adélie penguins have died in Antarctica because a colossal iceberg cut off their sea access.

But there’s no proof that the birds are dead. No one has actually found 150,000 frozen penguins. In fact, many experts think there’s a much less horrific explanation for the missing birds: When the going (fishing) gets tough, the penguins simply pick up and move. It wouldn’t be the first time Adélie penguins marched to new digs. When an iceberg grounded in the southern Ross Sea in 2001, penguins on Ross Island relocated to nearby colonies until the ice broke up.

“Just because there are a lot fewer birds observed doesn’t automatically mean the ones that were there before have perished,” said Michelle LaRue, a penguin population researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who was not involved in the study. “They easily could have moved elsewhere, which would make sense if nearby colonies are thriving,” LaRue told the Penguin Post in an email interview.


Penguin Molting: The Not So Cute Part About Being A Penguin

September 18, 2014

Many birds undergo two very energy-demanding processes at this time of year: molt and migration. For adult penguins these fall immediately on the heels of another very demanding activity: nesting. Consequently, birds have evolved various strategies for keeping their energy budgets balanced. One common strategy is the temporal separation of energy-demanding activities. For example, birds generally do not molt while they are nesting or migrating.

But, the feathers that make up birds’ plumages do need to be replaced if they are to continue to serve the important dual purpose of providing insulation and, for most species, the ability to fly. This is where molt, the process of shedding old and growing new feathers, comes in. Molt intensity (the number of feathers molting at the same time) and rate (the speed of individual feather growth) varies greatly among species.

Migratory songbirds, which have comparatively little time between the end of the temperatesummer nesting season and the beginning of fall migration to distant tropical wintering grounds, have various molt strategies: Some molt intensely and rapidly, replacing all of their feathers in as little as five weeks; others start and then interrupt their molt, completing it later on the wintering grounds; a few delay molting altogether until after they reach their wintering grounds. In contrast, birds such as hawks and eagles, which hunt on the wing, have evolved a low-intensity, slow-paced molt strategy, in which individual feathers are gradually and continually replaced over many months, even during nesting and migration.


Of course, the birds living at the National Aviary molt, too. One species exhibits a very unusual molt strategy. Our African penguins undergo what is called “catastrophic molt,” which involves the rapid, nearly simultaneous shedding of all their feathers over the course of just a few weeks. They have been described as looking like “an exploded pillow” during this time. But, there is a good reason for this strategy.

For penguins, whose outer covering must be insulative, waterproof and hydrodynamic (the underwater equivalent of aerodynamic), the annual molt imposes a monthlong fast on dry land. When they are molting, African penguins lose an ounce of fat and a half ounce of protein every day to meet the energy demands of their intensive molt. To balance this, a seven-pound African penguin gains an additional 20 percent body mass, or 1½ pounds, in just a few weeks, and then sheds those extra pounds during its molt-induced fast. That’s like a 200-pound person gaining and losing 40 pounds in two months.

Visit the National Aviary during our fun-filled “Party With the Penguins” Sept. 27-28, and you will see our African penguins looking very sharp and sleek in their newly molted plumages. Special weekend activities will include taking selfies with our penguins, getting an opportunity to win your own birthday party with a penguin, and, for our younger visitors dressed in black-and-white party clothes, the chance to march in a penguin parade.

Penguin Populations Increasing? Depends Who You Ask.

July 17, 2014

There’s no denying that climate change is real, but according to recent reports there’s also no denying scientific evidence indicating that certain penguin populations are healthy and growing. Or is there?

The Penguin Post  has learned that researchers recently attempted to count all of the Adélie penguins in Antarctica and found, to their own surprise, that the numbers of this white-eyed breed are exploding on the frigid continent, according to the Wall Street Journal. This contradicts claims by activists that the flightless bird is a victim of global warming whose dwindling numbers can be directly linked to dwindling ice caps. Wildlife biologists closely monitor Adélie penguins because their status correlates with annual sea-ice conditions and temperature trends.

But the Adélie population is actually 53 percent larger than previously estimated by using satellite technology, having increased globally by 29 percent in two decades, although this may have more to do with previous under-counting than the Adelie’s thriving under present conditions.

Heather Lynch of Stony Brook University, in New York, and imaging specialist Michelle LaRue of the University of Minnesota counted the birds by satellite and found that the Adélie penguin population is now 3.79 million breeding pairs, with 251 colonies.

The survey, published online this week by the American Ornithologists’ Union, coincides with another satellite census of Emperor penguins conducted in 2012 by geographers at the British Antarctic Survey that happened upon twice as many Emperor penguins as scientists had previously thought existed.

A recent article from reported findings from a study predicting that global warming would reduce Antarctica’s Emperor penguin population from 600,000 to around 480,000 by 2100. Governments have been reluctant to list the birds as endangered, however, because populations in 45 known colonies are supposed to rise until 2050 before declining. Emperors are one of three species considered stable, and of the 18 penguin species, only King, Adélie, and Chinstrap penguins are said to be increasing.

That is, unless the one talking is Ron Naveen, founder of the scientific research organization Oceanites, who told, “We know two of the three penguin species in the peninsula, Chinstrap and Adélie, are declining significantly in a region where, in the last 60 years, it’s warmed by five degrees Fahrenheit annually and by nine degrees Fahrenheit in winter.” This organization found that it is actually the Gentoo species that is increasing.

In June, another University of Minnesota study led by LaRue discovered that Emperor penguins may be behaving so as to adapt to their changing environment better than expected. The researchers recorded “six instances in just three years in which emperor penguins did not return to the same location to breed,” pointing to a newly found colony on the Antarctic Peninsula that may indicate the relocation of penguins.

“Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviors we thought we understood about emperor penguins,” LaRue told The assumption that Emperor penguins return to the same locations annually does not account for the satellite images. These birds move among colonies.

“That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes,” LaRue said.

A colony called Pointe Géologie, of March of the Penguins fame, has been studied for over 60 years. Researchers track certain birds in the colony every year to see if they rejoin the colony. In recent decades researchers worried that receding sea ice might be affecting the Emperor penguins in the colony who breed on it. A five-year decline in the late 1970s that diminished the colony by half was thought to be the result of warming temperatures in the Southern Ocean.

Now high-resolution satellite pictures have revealed the entire coastline and all the sea ice for researchers to peruse. Before this imagery, scientists thought Pointe Géologie was isolated, preventing the penguins from traveling elsewhere. The images show, however, that Pointe Géologie is actually within comfortable distance of neighboring colonies. The discrepancies in population numbers may be a function of where researchers are looking.

LaRue explains the significance of this data.

“It’s possible that birds have moved away from Pointe Géologie to these other spots and that means that maybe those banded birds didn’t die,” LaRue concluded. “If we want to accurately conserve the species, we really need to know the basics. We’ve just learned something unexpected, and we should rethink how we interpret colony fluctuations.”

Adelie Penguins

Adelie Penguins

Penguin Adaptation And Climate Change

July 7, 2014

As we at the Penguin Post have learned penguins are on the front line of climate change as an indicator species.  So, as global  temperatures rise and the ice melts, the iconic and lovable flightless birds that call Antarctica home force researchers to sit up and take notice.

A gentoo on the ice

A gentoo on the ice

Scientists who count the birds are finding that penguins are beginning to feel major impacts from the drastic changes to their habitat. But, perhaps surprisingly, the breeding populations of three brush-tailed species of penguins inhabiting the Western Antarctic Peninsula, where the temperatures are warmest, are not all falling as the ice is quickly melting. “We know two of the three penguin species in the peninsula, chinstrap and Adélie, are declining significantly in a region where, in the last 60 years, it’s warmed by 3 degrees C. (5 degrees F.) in the summer and by 5 degrees C. (9 degrees F.) in winter,” said Ron Naveen, the founder of Oceanites, a U.S. based non-profit and scientific research organization. He oversees the Antarctic Site Inventory which monitors penguin populations.

A third species, Gentoo’s, has not been losing numbers and in fact has even been expanding its range. Counting penguins in the wild is a complicated art. Naveen’s team makes repeated visits every year to the Antarctic Peninsula from November to February when egg-laying and chick creching are at their peak. Since 1994, he has conducted 1,421 visits to the peninsula and collected data from 209 sites.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguin

Naveen and fellow penguin counter Heather Lynch of Stony Brook University say the warming climate and the consequent loss of sea ice are contributing to the decline in Adelie and chinstrap, because the two species are dependent on the sea ice. Warming temperature is only one part of the whole story, however, according to the Naveen. “There are a number of possibilities,” he said. Adelies and chinstrap nest primarily near the ice and rely on krill as their main food source. These shrimp-like vertebrates live underneath the ice, feeding on the algae that grows there. As the ice retreats, the krill in turn disappear. Other factors such as commercial overfishing and the expanding population of humpback whales, which also feed on krill, may also contribute to the loss of their main food source.

By contrast, gentoo penguins are expanding both in numbers and in geographical range, according to Naveen and Lynch’s research because they are not as dependent on the sea ice for breeding and feeding. There are an estimated 387,000 gentoo breeding pairs and their populations are moving southward along the peninsula. “Gentoos are an open water species and can move southward as the declining ice concentration makes new habitat available to them,” Lynch said.  So as far as penguins are concerned in the new world of Antarctic global warming, we have some penguins able to adapt better than others, and given the rate of change, rapid adaptation will be the key to a species thriving.

Adelie Penguins – So What’s In A Name?

June 4, 2014

We all know and love Adelie penguins.  In fact, they are one of my favorites.  But, where, how, why and who does this name come from?   It’s a lovely and dainty sort of old school French name that for the last 170 years has indelible ties to penguins, nature and exploration.  If you’re looking for something familiar yet unique, perhaps the answer to a penguin trivia question, you just may want to look in her direction.


As a penguin lover you’ve undoubtedly heard of the name Adélie, but chances are you never associated it with an actual person.  But, the name most familiar to us as an Antarctic penguin species was a 19th century woman who ironically never got to see penguins in person.   Adélie Pepin was the daughter of a French clockmaker.  In 1816, she married a French explorer named Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville.

Jules-Sébastien-César Dumont d’Urville

Jules-Sébastien-César Dumont d’Urville

She appears to have had a rather uneventful, but difficult life.  Her mother-in-law did not approve of the marriage and refused to meet her, her explorer husband was frequently away on long voyages, and at least four of her children died young.  But, in 1837, her husband was sent away on his last of many voyages, to try to find the South Magnetic Pole and claim it for France.  The expedition as many of the far flung Antarctic 19th century journey’s suffered many hardships, and when his ship the L’Astrolabe finally anchored in icy Antarctica over two years later, he decided to name that stretch of coast Terra Adélie, or Adélie Land, after his wife.

L'Astrolabe breaking water on an ice floe 6 February 1838

L’Astrolabe breaking water on an ice floe 6 February 1838

Dumont described her as a “devoted partner who agreed three times to long and painful separations.”  He also discovered one of the southernmost penguin species in the world and also named them after his wife.  Undoubtedly, naming newly discovered lands and species is the captains prerogative.   Today, 170 years later anyone who loves penguins or for that matter schoolchildren who have read Mr. Popper’s Penguins are familiar with Adélies.   I wonder what Adélie Pepin thought all those years ago about having a short, flightless, plump (albeit very cute), waddling bird named after her?  Although, she is forever part of penguin history and lore, there is no record of Adélie’s thoughts about her penguins.

Yes, Even Penguins Can Get The Bird Flu

May 6, 2014

Yes, Adelie penguins, which breed in huge colonies on the rocky Antarctic Peninsula, also harbor a version of the avian influenza virus, according to a study published in the journal, mBio.

Fret not. As told to the Penguin Post if a penguin happens to sneeze on you, you aren’t going to get the flu. And, happily for the crowded colonies of nesting penguins, the avian influenza virus in their midst doesn’t seem to make penguins sick, either. But the discovery does raise intriguing questions about how flu viruses spread And the finding leaves no doubt that the flu can get just about anywhere on Earth.penguins_slide-bd6c9f0f6fc6a4872942ba488b81f54933e1ce0b-s4-c85

Researchers at a World Health Organization flu lab in Australia, led by Aeron Hurt, trekked down to the Antarctic Peninsula a year ago to look for the virus in the throats and, well, other cavities of Adelie penguins. Previous research had hinted that penguins have come in contact with flu viruses. And researchers returned from the southern continent with proof positive. About 3 percent of the penguins they swabbed, from two distinct colonies, were infected but not suffering any obvious effects of a novel flu virus.


The scientists report that the virus is unlike any other flu virus found on the planet. That suggests that it has been isolated for many decades — presumably hiding out in the penguins’ digestive and respiratory tracts, or possibly frozen in Antarctic ice. How did it get there? Nobody can say for sure. But birds including the Arctic tern do migrate many thousands of miles, and might have brought a relative of this virus to Antarctica more than 50 years ago. Another possible suspect is the yellow-billed pintail duck, which is known to stray from South America and end up on the Antarctic Peninsula.

And don’t assume that the black-and-white penguins are as tidy as their tuxedoed persona might suggest. “The large amount of penguin feces in colonies during summer, which in some cases is so significant it can be observed on satellite images, presumably facilitates (viral) transmission by the fecal-oral route,” the scientists note. It’s also possible that the virus can end up in seals and whales, they write. That means the virus could be carried around Antarctic waters. They speculate that the virus might mix and exchange genes inside these marine mammals, the way avian flu viruses found around human settlements sometimes recombine into nastier viruses inside pigs.  And while the scientists looked at the penguins in order to understand the myriad ways that flu can reach human beings, they came away more worried about the penguins themselves. Noting that South American birds do carry avian viruses that can be deadly to wildlife, “it is not inconceivable that such viruses could be transferred to the Antarctic continent by migratory birds, potentially resulting in catastrophic mass mortality,” they write.

Introducing The Penguin Cam!

April 25, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that on World Penguin Day, which takes place today, scientists have announced that they are hoping that satellite-enabled cameras can help keep track of penguins as the birds waddle through the coldest reaches of Antarctica.

Before, Tom Hart, a penguinologist (yes, that is his real title) from the University of Oxford, had to brave the frigid weather to collect penguin pictures from unconnected cameras as he sought to monitor the birds’ migration patterns and get a better idea of how they are affected by climate change, overfishing, disease and pollution.  The average temperature in Antarctica in winter, one of the continent’s two seasons, is minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hart says he enjoys working in the field. But solar-powered cameras that send out photos via satellite could help him collect more data, more efficiently. “There are regions we can get to regularly in Antarctica, but this is about pushing the boundaries to those very remote areas that you can’t access every year,” he said.

Now, instead of manually collecting files, he can access them online through the satellite network built by Iridium, a global telecommunications company. The current set-up on Antarctica’s Yalour Islands involves three cameras that transmit photos via a short-range wireless link to a central hub, which then sends the photos — along with location data, battery life information and a temperature reading — to a central server. The cameras can be triggered with a timer or motion detector, and take two photos seconds apart to give researchers a sense of motion. Eventually, the technology could be sold or leased to researchers in other hard-to-reach places, or even to security personnel who want to monitor national parks for poachers.

“Imagine telling researchers that they don’t have to take a 12-hour flight, then spend eight hours on a boat, and then take a dingy ride to a small island to collect a memory card that might or might not be empty,” Tells Jonathan Pallant, a senior engineer at Cambridge Consultants, who designed the camera.penguin4_5f04591faaac863b1a53b62865009dcd.nbcnews-ux-520-360

“If instead you tell these people you can get these pictures sent straight to your phone within minutes of them being taken, that is something they are very interested in,” he said. If the satellite-enabled cameras can survive a year on the Yalour Islands, home to thousands of Adelie penguins, the team hopes to test them for longer periods of time in even harsher parts of Antarctica. Eventually, even couch potatoes might be able to browse photos of wild animals beamed in from the Earth’s most remote areas on their laptops.

“Obviously, this is something that has to roll out gradually,” said Marion Campbell, program director at Cambridge Consultants. In the long run, however, the plan is to make this technology widely available, she said. “We want to make this a product that can be installed in much greater numbers all around the world.”


It’s World Penguin Day

April 25, 2014

Once again it’s April 25, and we at Penguin Place all know that April 25th is World Penguin Day.  About 20 years ago we found out from researchers from McMurdo Station in Antarctica that the 25th of April every year is when they noticed the Adelie penguins near their base would appear from the sea, returning on the same day each year from their annual northward migration.   Adelies will migrate away from Antarctica proper in the fall season and won’t return to their snowy colonies until the following spring (April 25th).  Each fall when the sun hits a certain angle low in the sky the Adelies en-mass dive into the frigid waters answering their nature’s call to migrate.  Although not a migration in the literal sense they will swim north a few hundred miles where they will stay among the floating icebergs that act as Adelie islands, feasting on krill and other penguin delicacies.

Penguin facts you should know on World Penguin Day:

Penguins are found in Antarctica, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, the Falkland Islands, and the Galapagos Islands. Penguins are undoubtedly the world’s most popular bird – think of Happy Feet, March of the Penguins, Pingu and to name a few uses in popular culture. These charismatic flightless birds are funny to watch on land but are graceful and rapid in water. They occur only in the seas of the Southern hemisphere; there are seventeen species of penguin ranging from the Galapagos to Antarctica.

Volunteer Point on the Falkland Islands is the world’s largest accessible king penguin colony with 1000 pairs of breeding penguins.

Unlike many other penguins which get around obstacles by sliding on their bellies, Rockhoppers will try to jump over them as their name suggests. Rockhopper penguins are the smallest of the Falkland penguins and they come to the Falklands to breed on cliff tops in October. 70% of the world’s Rockhopper population is in the Falklands.

The macaroni penguin is probably the most abundant penguin species in the world; the estimated world population exceeds 11 million pairs.

The gentoo penguin is the third largest species of penguin after the emperor and king penguin.

Magellanic penguins ( named after Ferdinand Magellan) are also known in the Falklands as the jackass penguin because of their braying call. They arrive in September but leave in April to migrate as far as Brazil. They breed in underground burrows, up to 6 meters deep, providing effective protection from predators and the harsh weather.

The Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin specie that ventures north of the equator in the wild.

Penguins can drink sea water.

Penguins can dive to a depth of 1,850 feet (565 meters). Deeper than any other bird.

Penguins are good listeners. They can find a family member in a crowd of 80,000.

Penguins spend 75% of their life at sea.

World Penguin Day Is Coming

April 20, 2013

Of course everyday is Penguin Day at Penguin Place, but this year we thought we’d actually give you a heads up that World Penguin Day is on the way so you can prepare.   Each year we officially celebrate two penguin holidays (Chilly Willy’s birthday not withstanding).  January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day, which is a day to celebrate penguins and what they mean to us. But, for me the biggie is World Penguin Day on April 25th, because it marks an actual specific event for penguins.  Read all about it here and all the fun things you can do for this waddling cool day.World-Penguin-Day-2013-v2

Global Warming Helping Some Penguins

April 14, 2013

The Penguin Post has learned that in a finding that is surprising to scientists, that global warming has been a boon at least for one large colony of Adélie penguins.

A recent study found that over the last 60 years, a colony of Adelie penguins on Beaufort Island in the Ross Sea, south of New Zealand, increased by 84 percent, from 35,000 breeding pairs to 64,000 breeding pairs. This increase has come as glaciers have retreated from the island, leaving more bare, snow-free ground, where the penguins make their nests, according to the study, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.
For food, the penguins still depend on sea ice, from which they forage. As the extent of sea ice has declined in Antarctica, it brings bad news for other colonies of the aquatic birds.
The finding is surprising since other colonies of Adélie penguins have declined in population, and many continue to do so.
The scientists suspect that the increase in the Adelie population on Beaufort Island is primarily due to the increase in available nesting habitat; since 1980, the amount of flat, bare ground has increased by 20 percent as the glaciers retreat, according to a news release describing the study. There may be other reasons for the increase in population, such as prey availability, though this is uncertain, according to the study.
“This research raises new questions about how Antarctic species are impacted by a changing environment,” said Michelle LaRue, study co-author and researcher at the University of Minnesota, in the statement. “This paper encourages all of us to take a second look at what we’re seeing and find out if this type of habitat expansion is happening elsewhere to other populations of Adélie penguins or other species.”
The study estimates penguin populations and habitat size using high-resolution aerial photographs taken as far back as 1958, and, more recently, satellite imagery.
Adelie Rookery

Adelie Rookery