Posts Tagged ‘Antartica’

Adorable Robot Penguin Alert

November 3, 2014

Studying wild penguins is crucial if we are to understand why they behave the way they do. But what if the apparently passive act of observation changes the way they behave? For decades, behavioral ecologists have been very mindful of this problem. A paper, just out in Nature Methods, suggests a cunning new way to collect data from penguins in their natural habitat without causing them undue stress.

A remote-controlled vehicle disguised as an emperor penguin chick makes a stealthy approach Photograph: Yvon Le Maho et al. Nature Methods

A remote-controlled vehicle disguised as an emperor penguin chick makes a stealthy approach.

There are many ways to study the behavior of penguins. You can go out and gain their trust, hoping they get so comfortable with your presence that they carry on as if you weren’t there at all. Or you might want to fit your study population with some kind of gizmo that can collect (and maybe even transmit) data in your absence. But even devices like these are likely to alter behavior.

A microchip implanted beneath the skin is much more likely to go unnoticed by the penguin. The snag is that in order to scan the chip and identify the individual penguin, you have to get pretty close. Researchers have now come up with an alternative: sending in a remote-controlled robot penguin equipped with a scanning device, the ability to collect all sorts of data on the focal animal and then transmit it into the ether. Testing this method out on king penguins, they reveal that it is likely to be a whole lot less stressful for the animals.

When approached by a human, for instance, a penguin’s heart rate increased by an average of 35 beats per minute. When the rover came at it, its heart rate also increased, but only by around 24 beats per minute. In addition, a human caused the target penguin to move much more (average of 43 cm) than the rover (just 8cm). With the robot, the penguins were also much quicker to return to their original physiological state.

The researchers went on to see if emperor penguins had a similarly relaxed reaction to robots. Many were wary. But when the scientists dressed up the rover as a baby penguin, everyone was happy. “Chicks and adults were even heard vocalizing at the camouflaged rover, and it was able to infiltrate a crèche without disturbance,” note Yvon Le Maho and colleagues.

The camouflaged rover successfully infiltrates an emperor penguin crèche Photograph: Yvon Le Maho et al. Nature Methods

The camouflaged rover successfully infiltrates an emperor penguin crèche.

This set-up is obviously not going to be workable in every setting. But it certainly does open up a lot of exciting possibilities for students of penguin behavior. Not to mention some rather wonderful photographic opportunities.

Penguin Protection Plan

June 7, 2014

About 75 percent of all penguins are threatened and the Penguin Post has learned that a campaign to double the area of protected reserves is being considered by an international commission.
Penguins are aquatic birds. They do not fly. Instead, they soar through the ocean. Penguins are especially adapted to life in the water, and therefore are affected by everything in it.

Adelie Penguin

Adelie Penguin

Penguins suffer from pollution and overfishing, which limits their food source. They are in danger from shipping traffic and oil spills. Climate change puts all penguin populations at risk, says Andrea Kavanagh, director of Global Penguin Conservation for the PEW Charitable Trusts. “Global warming is a problem because it shifts where their normal food supplies are, either farther away from them so they have to swim farther and farther away to get the food,” Kavanagh said. “And when penguins are nesting and trying to protect their chicks that’s especially a big problem for them, because the longer they have to leave their chicks the more open to starvation and predation their chicks are.”

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguin

Two-thirds of the global penguin population is endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Eight species ‒ of 18 worldwide ‒ live in Antarctica or the sub-Antarctic.  The continent is one of the world’s last wild frontiers and home to 10,000 species including seabirds, seals and whales, as well as penguins. Kavanagh says PEW and partner groups are backing a plan to create two large marine reserves, which would set aside nearly three million square kilometers in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, more than one-third of which would be a strict no fishing area. “Marine reserves help penguins because, number one, it would move fisheries away from where the penguins have to forage for food,” Kavanagh said. “And so it would give them a little bit more security when it comes to their food source in the face of a changing climate. The other thing that it would do is that it would take a big fishery that is happening, the krill fishery, and move that farther away from their foraging grounds.” The tiny shrimp-like krill is a staple of the penguin diet. But they are being harvested for fish feed and vitamin supplements. A commission created under the Antarctic Treaty, which governs the continent, is currently negotiating the fate of the reserves.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguin

The 24 member states and European Union countries must come to a consensus. Kavanagh says every nation is on board except Russia, which has been reluctant to give up fishing in the proposed area. “The last couple of years we have been working with our Russian colleagues and with all of the other member governments to try to understand their problems and see if we can work through them so that this year, this October, we can have these marine reserves firmly established,” Kavanagh said. The meeting will be held in Tasmania, where the commission is based. The reserves would double the area of ocean worldwide that is fully protected.

antarctica-map

Vanessa Strauss, who heads a high-tech tracking and monitoring program at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds in Cape Town, says accidents there have accelerated the birds’ sharp decline. “We know that some animals oiled at sea never make it to land,” Strauss said. “So, it’s really difficult to quantify the impact of chronic oil pollution over the long term. We can not only look at the number of birds affected by oil to quantify the impact, but we do know from research that many birds do die out at sea.”

 

 

Young Penguin Makes A Friend

May 24, 2012

Humans love to line up in front of the glass walls at penguin zoo exhibits, staring at the antics of the black-and-white, two-legged creatures.  But what about when the tides are turned, when penguins get a chance to meet the strange humans,  observing them for the first time? The Penguin Post has learned that that moment was captured on camera by a man traveling to penguins’ home habitat, Antarctica. “I was on a tour with friends in Antarctica when we visited a penguin colony,” the visitor, Joel Oleson, explained.  “Our guide told us not to approach the penguins, but that it was okay for them to approach us.” “I laid down to seem non- threatening, and the baby penguin approached me,” said Oleson, a self-described “travel junkie” who has traveled  to over 100 countries since 2008 and blogs about his adventures at Travelingepic.com.  Watch the video to see what happened next.