Posts Tagged ‘australia’

The Curious Case Of New Zealand’s Little Blue Penguins

February 3, 2016

The curious case of Little Blue Penguin in New Zealand has baffled scientist for years, as these waddling Australian invaders have long managed to blend in with the native New Zealand little blue penguins and now has just taken another mysterious twist.

Researchers recently revealed an Otago, NZ population of the world’s smallest — and possibly cutest — penguin species actually hailed from across the Tasman Sea and have now confirmed the immigrants arrived from Australia as recently as the past few hundred years.

It’s the latest instance in which DNA analysis has dramatically changed what we know about many of New Zealand’s supposedly native species.

Following startling findings in December that, for the first time, described two distinct species of little blue penguin in New Zealand, a paper published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences finds the newcomers probably arrived here between 1500 and 1900.

This up-ended previous theories that the Australians had been here for thousands of years.


As part of her PhD research at Otago University, Dr Stefanie Grosser analysed ancient DNA from the remains of more than 100 little penguins, including bones dating back to pre-human times and specimens from archaeological deposits and museums.

“Amazingly, all of the bones older than 400 years belong to the native New Zealand species,” she said.

Dr Grosser said the arrival apparently followed the decline of the native penguin, which early human settlers and introduced predators hunted.

The Australian species were set apart by a few subtle differences in their color, body and cranium size.

Other researchers had previously shown that calls differed between Australian and New Zealand little penguins and females preferred the calls of males of their own species.

“You could say the Aussies like hearing ‘feesh’, while ‘fush’ sounds better to Kiwi ears,” Dr Grosser joked at the time of the December findings.

But how they got here remains a mystery — and one we might never solve.

“It’s one of those unlikely events that they happened to rock up on the Otago coastline and got a foothold,” said study leader Professor Jon Waters, of Otago University’s Department of Zoology.

“You could make up a story that maybe an Australian ship picked up 10 and brought them over, but I’d find that really hard to believe.”

The Australian sub-population appears confined to Otago. DNA analysis from other colonies, such as Wellington, Kaikoura and Banks Peninsula, turned up only the New Zealand lineage.

“It’s possible we might find another colony of Aussies somewhere like Fiordland, we don’t know.”

Professor Waters believed the findings should bring about a different approach to the species’ conservation.

“We have to think about them as being not one thing, but two, and manage them separately — so there might be a real paradigm shift.”

The native penguin, which on average stands at just 25cm and weighs 1kg, is considered in decline in New Zealand. Dogs pose their greatest threat.

The research, supported by the Marsden Fund and the now-closed Allan Wilson Centre, also provides the latest example of penguins winding up on foreign shores far from home.

Little blue penguins have been found as far as Patagonia in South America.

Other famous penguin stories have included the Antarctic emperor penguin Happy Feet, which captured Kiwi hearts after it arrived in Kapiti in 2011, and Katrina, a Fiordland penguin that swam 3000km to Mt Gambier, South Australia, in 2013.

Penguin Record On Penguin Island

October 12, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned that a call was recently made to the penguin loving citizens Rockingham in south western Australia to help break a Guinness World Record for the most people dressed as penguins in one place, and we’re happy to report the record was met as 506 people dressed in penguin costumes climbed aboard ferries and descended on Penguin Island on Saturday.

Participants ranged from young penguin lovers to seniors in their penguin costumes, as they caught ferries to Penguin Island which is located just offshore for the City of Rockingham’s first Guinness World Records attempt.

Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels said five councillors from the City attended in costume to support the event. “Thank you to the Youth Advisory Council for launching this idea,” he said. “It is great to support something fun for the community, something a little different and a little quirky.

26AC73F900000578-2995934-image-a-156_1426438444183It took seven ferry trips to transport all the penguin people over to the island.  To qualify for the attempt, all participants had to wear a full penguin costume including a head piece with a beak attached, black and white body suit and webbed feet, and we’re happy to say that provided more than a few of the costumes.

All participants had to be filmed arriving on the island and filmed while two independent witnesses counted each penguin. All photographic and written evidence will be provided to Guinness World Records and will take up to eight weeks to be ratified. The record is then uploaded on to their website.

A Penguins Best Friend Turns Into Movie

September 15, 2015

Mass penguin attacks on Middle Island by wild foxes seemed a frequent ordeal for a penguin loving town near the island on the coast of Victoria, Australia – until a local farmer came up with a canine solution.

It seemed unlikely, but it worked.  Now the use of Maremma sheepdogs to guard the colony of penguins has become one of Warrnambool’s most unusual features and a world first in conservation practice.783707-dog

Warrnambool council manager and dog-handler Peter Abbott said the program began in 2006 after plummeting penguin counts. “It got to a point where the colony was about to be wiped out,” he said.

The small island is just a few hundred yards from the shore, wadeable for humans and, as the locals discovered, swimable for foxes.

However, while animal-lovers can visit the dogs at the town’s maritime village, fraternizing with the public is a controlled exercise. They need to remain working dogs to remain effective on the job, said Abbott.
“The dogs stay on the island through the penguin breeding season at summertime and they stay there overnight of course by themselves. And also make sure people don’t go to the island as well.” Penguin numbers have increased to about 180 after the Maremma project was launched.
The success of using the Italian breed has spurred a multi-million dollar movie to be made and named in honor of the first dog guardian named Oddball.


“We went from about 800 penguins, down to just four.”

The current pair of patrol pooches, sisters named Eudy and Tula, live on Middle Island to guard the Little penguins from predators such as foxes and wild dogs.

The Green Island Of The Penguins

August 20, 2015

When penguins come to mind (and for us when don’t they?), the picture most folks are bound to think up is the desolate white expanse of Antarctica. But, we know that penguins live in many various ecosystems throughout the Southern Hemisphere, including a large penguin population on Australia’s lush green Macquarie Island.

04 Dec 2009, Macquarie Island, Tasmania, Australia --- King penguin colony on Macquarie Island in Australia --- Image by © Nick Rains/Corbis

King penguin colony on Macquarie Island in Australia

Only 20 miles long, this narrow slice of land lies isolated more than 900 miles south of Australia, but boasts a diverse ecosystem with large multi-species penguin populations, seals and albatrosses.

04 Dec 2009, Sandy Bay, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia --- Royal penguins and Southern elephant seals at Sandy Bay on Macquarie Island --- Image by © Nick Rains/Corbis

Royal penguins and Southern elephant seals at Sandy Bay on Macquarie Island

The penguin population was hunted to near extinction in the early 20th century, when penguins were prized for their blubber. But conservation measures enacted in the 1960s and, more recently, UNESCO World Heritage inscription in 1997 have helped to protect this island’s unique ecosystem and its vulnerable inhabitants.

Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) group walking to colony past Macquarie Island Cabbage (Stilbcarpa polaris) both endemic to Macquarie Island, Australia

Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) group walking to colony past Macquarie Island Cabbage (Stilbcarpa polaris) both endemic to Macquarie Island, Australia

Little Blue Penguins Settling In To The Bronx

June 16, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned that the colony of Little Blue Penguins which has recently made its debut in the Aquatic Bird House at WCS’s (Wildlife Conservation Society) Bronx Zoo are settling in nicely. Julie-Larsen-Maher_6157_Little-Penguins_ABH_BZ_05-14-15Named for their small size and characteristic bluish hue, little blue penguins are also known as blue penguins, little penguins, and fairy penguins. Full-grown adults are only about 13 inches tall and weigh 2 to 3 pounds. They are the smallest of the 18 penguin species and native to coastal southern Australia and New Zealand. These are the first little blue penguins to be on exhibit at the Bronx Zoo and there are only three facilities in the U.S. that currently have them.  All of the birds in the colony were hatched at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia and brought to the Bronx Zoo as part of a breeding program. Approximately 15 penguins a year hatch at Taronga, making it the most successful little penguin breeding program in the world. The Bronx Zoo penguins will help ensure continued genetic diversity in the little penguin populations in the U.S.

“The little penguins are acclimating well to their new home and are quite a sight to see,” said Jim Breheny, WCS Executive Vice President and General Director of the WCS Zoos and Aquarium. “The Bronx Zoo is focused on the conservation of the species we exhibit, and international partnerships and breeding programs like that of the little penguin are vital to ensuring the survival of the species in the wild through education, awareness, and connecting people to nature in a way that can only be accomplished through close, in-person encounters.”

Taronga Zoo Director and Chief Executive, Cameron Kerr, said: “The little penguins at the Bronx Zoo have taken on the role of international ambassadors for their species. Visitors to the Bronx Zoo from around the world can come to learn about these wonderful Australian marine animals. This group of little penguins will ensure a thriving population in the U.S. for many years to come.”

The species occurs in temperate marine waters and feed on fish, cephalopods and crustaceans. They nest colonially in burrows on sand dunes or rocky beach areas. Like other penguin species, they use a wide range of vocalizations to communicate with each other. In the wild, their populations are threatened by climate change and human activities.

The Bronx Zoo is supporting Taronga Zoo’s little penguin conservation programs in Sydney Harbor.  The work includes monitoring, awareness campaigns, rescue and rehabilitation, breeding programs, and more. Man-made nest boxes can provide safety from introduced predators and guard dogs have been used in some places to discourage predation.

Little Penguins Big Hit In The Bronx

May 25, 2015

If you’ve ever thought the only thing that could be cuter than a baby penguin would be a baby penguin that never grows up, your wish has sort of come true. It turns out there’s a species of very small penguins officially called…the Little Penguin or the Little Blue Penguin.

At just over a foot tall and weighing only two to three pounds full grown, the native Australian Little Penguins are the smallest penguins in the world. They’re also called Fairy penguins, and you could even go with “blue penguins” as well—a name that references the blue tone of the species’ feathers—and still be understood by the average penguin expert.  maxresdefault

Now, the Penguin Post has learned that the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society of New York has just put a breeding colony of the penguins on exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. It’s the first time the diminutive species has been in residence anywhere in New York, according to WCS. “The little penguins are acclimating well to their new home and are quite a sight to see,” said Jim Breheny, general director of the WCS zoos and aquarium, in a statement.

Little penguins are listed as a species “of least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of endangered species—although at least one population, a breeding colony in Sydney Harbor, has been declared endangered by the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage.

Little penguin wild populations are declining overall, however, in part because of the impacts of climate change. Recent studies show that more intense coastal storms, warming waters, and changing ocean currents drive off the krill, small fish, and squid that little penguins feed on. Swimming farther from their nests to find food puts a lot of stress on the adult birds, leading to underweight chicks and lower chick survival rates.

Antarctica Penguin Perfect (For Now)

March 2, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned that Antarctic sea ice levels are perfect for emperor penguins.  That according to researchers, who have found the frozen continent has in the past been (if you can believe) too cold for the bird. A team of Australian researchers, including scientists from the University of Tasmania and the Australian Antarctic Division, has been investigating how emperor penguin numbers have varied over centuries.

6b8e1e81-3fcb-4a0a-b72e-4a225ae36f83-2060x1236The lead researcher, Jane Younger, said that despite emperor penguins being accustomed to temperatures of -30C, the last ice age seems to have been a snap too cold for them, when their population was about seven times smaller than in 2015. “Due to there being about twice as much sea ice compared to current conditions, the penguins were unable to breed in more than a few locations around Antarctica,” Younger said.  “The distances from the open ocean, where the penguins feed, to the stable sea ice where they breed was probably too far.” The finding suggests current sea ice conditions might be optimal for the emperor penguin population, but researchers have yet to determine the impact of further global warming.

Australia’s Oldest Man Likes To Knit For Penguins

February 11, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned that Australia’s oldest man, Alfred “Alfie” Date has spent a lot of his days knitting sweaters for little penguins. The sweaters were requested from Victoria’s Phillip Island Penguin Foundation in 2013, to assist the survival of little penguins after an oil spill. Little penguins are a species of penguin only found in southern Australia and New Zealand, with a lone colony of 32,000 remaining on Phillip Island.  The sweaters are needed because the oiled penguins will lose much of their natural insulation until they recover.

penguinsThe 109-year-old, who lives in a retirement home on the New South Wales Central Coast, was asked by two nurses to help make the sweaters, as they had heard he was an experienced knitter. It was a request he could not refuse. Using heavy wool provided by the nurses, Alfie put his 80 years of knitting skills to good use and got to work.

The self-taught knitter, who refined his skills after making a baby jacket for his nephew in the 1930s, has seven children and 20 grandchildren, and “about the same amount” of great grandchildren.  Alfie remembers the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the declaration of World War one. He told his secret to a long life is simply “waking up every morning.”

Donations of the knitted penguin outfits were received from all over the world. The foundation says this “is not a fashion statement” but instead they help the little creatures if they are affected by an oil spill. Oil can make their feathers stick together, allowing water to get to their inner layers. This causes the little penguins to get cold and not be able to hunt due to heaviness. When oiled penguins arrive at the foundation, they are given a jacket to wear so that they don’t consume the toxins or preen their feathers. In 2001, 438 penguins were affected in an oil spill at Phillip Island and by using the knitted outfits, 96% of the penguins were rehabilitated at the clinic, according to the foundation’s website.

The center currently has “plenty of penguin jumpers (sweaters) at this time donated by generous knitters across the globe” and has asked for no more donations from eager knitters. Today, Alfie keeps active by knitting scarves for friends and beanies for premature babies.

Little Little Penguin Census

November 13, 2014

The little fluffy penguin, which has been under siege for the past decade on Granite Island, Australia may have a future after all. The Little Penguin census on Granite Island was completed last month and it was found that there were 16 burrows containing 32 penguins. In 2013 there was evidence of 38 penguins, 2012 – 26 penguins and in 2011 – 102 penguins.w1200_h678_fmax

The Natural Resources Management Board (NRM) fund Flinders University to conduct the census and penguin ecologist Dr Diane Colombelli-Negrel said it is the second year the university has undergone the census. “The little penguin numbers seem to have stabilized since 2012,” Dr Colombelli-Negrel said. “Granite Island has greatly improved with the breeding success in 2013 being 1.5 (calculated as number of penguin chicks that fledged per breeding pair), which was the highest in the SA populations monitored. “However further monitoring is necessary to assess if this is a long-term trend.” What was most pleasing for Dr Colombelli-Negrel is the management and control of rats on the island. “Since 2006 we have done a lot of management to control the rats and our findings show there is no rat predation at all on the island now,” she said.

Penguins and Daylight Savings Time

November 2, 2014

Penguins-Are-Right-to-Love-DST-600x357-1With the clocks turned back this morning one hour and a long dark winter about to commence here in New England the Penguin Post has learned that there is at least one place on earth that observes perpetual summer time (even if it doesn’t feel like summer time): the penguin dominated Macquarie Island. If it weren’t a 3-by-23-mile sub-Antarctic island inhabited by millions of penguins and about 40 seasonal researchers, it would probably be my residence of choice. Don’t ask me how those penguins and scientists benefit from DST because I don’t know, but I’m sure they do. Everyone benefits from DST. More’s the pity that Australia, which administers the island, is not on Macquarie time.

Sadly, the debate in most of the world revolves around whether to keep Daylight Saving Time at all, let alone extend it throughout the year. Most critics of our annual clock change reside in the opposite camp from mine, pressing for year-round winter time.

But DST and its later sunrise and sunset bring many advantages to the table. First, energy savings may equal 100,000 barrels of oil a day. (Admittedly, many critics dispute this figure, and Mass DST energy savings are minimal.) The extra hour gives people more daylight time for shopping, which is supposed to equal economic growth, and, according to the International Business Times, “Several studies in the U.S. and Great Britain have found that the DST daylight shift reduces net traffic accidents and fatalities.” It also cuts down on crime.

Meanwhile, opponents of DST all grouse about the confusion engendered by clock changes. They are by no means wrong. People forget to set their clocks and are late for appointments—or they use the change as an excuse. Some countries and even some places in the U.S. don’t switch time, which increases the mess and makes interstate scheduling chaotic. Hawaii doesn’t observe DST, and neither does Arizona, but the Navajo Nation, which is within Arizona and two other states, does. As if that’s not confusing enough, the Hopi Reservation, which is entirely surrounded by the Navajo Nation, does not observe DST. Apparently even Siri, the iPhone electronic assistant, is confused. More troubling is that heart attacks appear to rise more after the spring forward, than fall back.  Why?  I don’t know.

But why take it out on DST? It’s the clock change that’s the problem, not the daylight. This year, when we go on Daylight Saving Time, let’s simply stay there and never go back.

Of course, I already hear complaints of insensitivity toward the farming community and toward school children, whose winter days would start in unwelcoming, even dangerous, darkness. But I suspect any protests on behalf of dairy farmers come from romantics who have never visited a factory farm, where milking goes on around the clock.

I also suspect those dark childhood winters gave me a lifelong craving for more daylight—a craving that couldn’t even be satisfied by the long days and bright nights of the summer. Daylight Saving Time, with its illusion of an extra hour of light, satisfies that craving. And while waking up to darkness is no fun, having the sun disappear prematurely is truly depressing; it’s not for nothing that Shakespeare called sunset “Death’s second self.” So let’s just not touch our clocks this fall. There’s much to be learned from the penguins of Macquarie.