Posts Tagged ‘Emperor Penguins’

Penguins and Blizzards

January 22, 2016

Be more like a penguin is how the folks in D.C. can make it through Blizzard Jonas in style.  Extreme blizzards with winds over 50 mph and temperatures well below 0 degrees are a common occurrences in Antarctica. So to avoid the strong, cold winds and snow Emperor Penguins will lie of their stomachs facing into the wind to lesson exposure, or in cases of extreme cold they will gather together tightly in large groups to keep warm in what’s know as the Penguin Huddle.


New Thinking About Emperor Penguin Feathers

October 21, 2015

Emperor penguins eat, sleep and breed in one of the harshest environments in the world — icy Antarctica, in temperatures that can dip below -40 in the winter. It would be easy to assume that they have the thickest, densest feathers in the bird world.

But the Penguin Post has learned that a new study reveals that’s not the case — and that penguin coats are much more complex insulating structures than previously believed.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could lead to a better understanding of penguin physiology — and perhaps one day inspire makers of insulating materials.

Lead author Cassondra Williams, a comparative biologist at UC Irvine, said she first became interested in this question when she and her colleagues read in popular media and elsewhere that penguins had the highest feather density among birds — but they couldn’t find an original source for that statement.

“It just seemed like somebody said it, and it got repeated and repeated,” Williams said.

The numbers in the literature related to the penguins’ contour feathers — the stiff, shapely plumes that resemble those used in quill pens. The contour feathers encase the body and the insulating layers below, keeping the cold water out and maintaining the body’s sleek profile. Estimates on these feather densities were all over the place — some said there were 11 feathers per square centimeter; others said there were around 46.

But Williams and her coauthors had access to the bodies of penguins that had died on the ice, and they decided to put the mystery to rest, using three different birds. They soon found that counting penguin feathers was no easy task.

“Anytime we would try to even pull out a feather or separate the feathers with just our fingers, a lot of downy bits would come up,” she said, resulting in “a lot of tiny bits of downy feathers flying in the air.”

So the researchers snipped off the feathers — as if giving the birds a close haircut — and then counted the clipped feather shafts.

To their surprise, they found that while the feather density varied slightly from penguin to penguin, the contour feather density was around 9 per square centimeter — less than a fourth as many as described in many previous papers.

And the emperor penguin definitely did not have the highest density of contour feathers in the bird world, they added: The white-throated dipper’s feather density is more than six times higher.

But a big surprise lay beneath those contour feathers. Penguins, as it turns out, have several types of feathers, including after-feathers — little downy bits that are attached to the contour feathers — and plumules, downy feathers that are attached directly to the skin. The emperor penguins had about four times as many downy plumules as contour feathers, so the plumules probably play a major part in the penguins’ insulation.

Strangely, few papers had ever mentioned the presence of these plumules and the role they play, Williams said.

Nor did other scientists seem to notice even tinier feathers called filoplumes, which are hard to see without a microscope. These tiny feathers, which look like long stems with barbs at the very end, are used by flying birds to help sense when their plumage is disheveled, so they can groom it back into a more aerodynamic shape.

Though this idea hasn’t been tested, it’s possible that these penguins are using filoplumes to keep their contour feathers streamlined to minimize drag in the water.

The findings may cause scientists to modify their understanding of how penguin bodies work and how they move. For example, researchers have long thought that penguins store air in their insulating feather coats so that they can release tiny bubbles that allow them to further reduce drag as they swim. Williams said these delicate, downy plumules could produce even tinier bubbles than the contour feathers, improving that drag reduction even more.

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 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

Emperor Penguins On The Move

June 24, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that Emperor penguins, thought to be tied to a single breeding location, are willing to relocate their nesting grounds in response to climate change, according to a recent studies. 

penguinResearchers tracked penguin colonies through satellite images over three years and reported six instances of them shifting to different locations in response to changing temperatures.  Up until now, it was believed that emperor penguins return to the same breeding grounds annually. The behavior is also known as philopatric behavior.  “Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviors we thought we understood about emperor penguins,” said UM researcher Michelle LaRue, in the press release.  “If we assume that these birds come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn’t make any sense,” she said. ” These birds didn’t just appear out of thin air — they had to have come from somewhere else.” Researchers were concerned lately that retreating sea ice caused by climate change could affect the colony that breeds on it. However the recent satellite images showed the area is not isolated at all.  “That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes,” LaRue added.

How To Draw An Emperor Penguin

June 21, 2014

If you love penguins (and who doesn’t), but find it a bit challenging drawing one, as not everyone is Liz Bannish, here’s a little tutorial on how to make it easy to sketch your favorite flightless waddling bird.

But first a little Emperor Penguin did you know:

  • The Emperor Penguin was first documented in 1844.
  • The Emperor walks over 75 miles to a breeding area.
  • They can stay under water for almost 18 minutes.
  • An adult Emperor weighs almost 100 pounds.
  • They swim to almost 2,000 feet deep.
  • This penguin species can live up to almost 50 years old.
  • They grow up to over 4 feet tall.
  • These penguins can survive in minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.


Emperor Penguins On the Move?

June 21, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that a new study led by the University of Minnesota offers new insights on the long-term future of emperor penguins by showing that the penguins may be behaving in ways that allow them to adapt to their changing environment better than we expected.


Researchers have long thought that emperor penguins were philopatric, which means they would return to the same location to nest each year. The new research study used satellite images to show that penguins may not be faithful to previous nesting locations.

Researchers involved in the new study found six instances in just three years in which emperor penguins did not return to the same location to breed. They also report on one newly discovered colony on the Antarctic Peninsula that may represent the relocation of penguins.

University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering researcher and the study’s lead author Michelle LaRue shared her findings at the IDEACITY conference in Toronto on June 20.  “Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviors we thought we understood about emperor penguins,” said LaRue. “If we assume that these penguins come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn’t make any sense. These penguins didn’t just appear out of thin air—they had to have come from somewhere else. This suggests that emperor penguins move among colonies. That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes.”

Emperor penguins are a well-studied species and have recently been elevated to celebrity status with movies like “Happy Feet” and the documentary “March of the Penguins.”

The “March of the Penguins” colony is called Pointe Géologie and it’s been studied for more than 60 years. Researchers observe the colony every year and look, in particular, for birds that have been banded by researchers to return to the colony. In recent decades researchers have been concerned about how receding  may affect the emperor penguins that breed on it.

Over five years in the late 1970s, the Southern Ocean warmed and at the same time the penguin colony at Pointe Géologie, declined by half (6,000 breeding pairs to 3,000 breeding pairs). The decline was thought to be due to decreased survival rates. In other words, researchers thought that the warming temperatures were negatively impacting the survival of the species.

High-resolution satellite imagery has changed all that because now researchers can see the entire coastline and all the sea ice. Because emperor penguins are the only species out on the sea ice, they can look at images and identify their presence through the telltale sign—their guano stain. Before satellite images, researchers thought Pointe Géologie was isolated and there was nowhere else for the penguins to go. The  show that Pointe Géologie is not isolated at all. Plenty of colonies are within easy travel distance for an .

“It’s possible that penguins have moved away from Pointe Géologie to these other spots and that means that maybe those banded birds didn’t die,” LaRue said. “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.”

Solar Eclipse For Penguins Only

April 29, 2014

Attention all Emperor penguins: The Penguin Post has learned that an annular solar eclipse will be turning the sun into a glowing ring of fire, the full extent of which will only be visible from a remote spot of coastal Antarctica.  For those not familiar a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, casting its shadow on our planet’s surface. For tonight’s eclipse, the first solar eclipse of the year, the moon will be slightly closer to the Earth than normal, making its shadow a bit smaller and thus unable to completely cover the face of the sun. Such so-called annular solar eclipses only block out the central portion of the sun, leaving a beautiful ring of light around it.penguineclipse1-660x665

But, for this eclipse the moment of annularity will only be visible from a tiny slice of Antarctica, which is the home to a few Emperor Penguin colonies.  Even the scientists living at the South Pole will miss the event because the sun is currently below the horizon for them during the long dark Antarctic winter. But hundreds of miles north from there near the coast, the sun will manage to just peek over the horizon and turn into a glowing ring during the eclipse.  The sight of which will surely delight and amaze our flightless friends, and since the only beings to be around to see it will be Emperor penguins,  scientists have dubbed this the “Penguin Eclipse.”


Emperor Penguins Looking For Protection

January 22, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the emperor penguin may warrant Endangered Species Act protection based on threats from climate change. The most ice-dependent of all penguin species, emperor penguins are threatened by the loss of their sea-ice habitat and declining food availability off Antarctica.

“Our carbon pollution is melting the sea-ice habitat emperor penguins need to survive,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “Emperor penguins are the icons of wild Antarctica, and they need rapid cuts in carbon pollution and Endangered Species Act protections if they’re going to have a future.”

Emperor penguins rely on sea ice for raising their chicks and foraging. In parts of Antarctica where sea ice is rapidly disappearing, emperor penguins populations are declining or have been lost entirely. The emperor penguin colony featured in the film March of the Penguins has declined by more than 50 percent, and the Dion Island colony in the Antarctic Peninsula has disappeared. One recent study projected that nearly half of the world’s emperor penguins may disappear by mid-century without drastic cuts in carbon pollution.

Warming ocean temperatures and melting sea ice in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica have also diminished the availability of krill — a key food source for emperor penguins. Ocean acidification resulting from the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide and industrial krill fisheries further threaten the penguins’ food supply.

In 2006 the Center filed a petition to list 12 penguin species, including the emperor penguin, as threatened or endangered. The agency protected seven penguin species but denied protection to the emperor penguin. In 2011 the Center re-petitioned the Service to protect the emperor based on new scientific information demonstrating the species is imperiled. In today’s finding the Service agreed to conduct a full scientific status review to determine if the emperor penguin should be protected under the Act.

Endangered Species Act listing of the emperor penguin would offer greater protections against the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change and the industrial overfishing of key prey species. For example, if penguins are listed, future approval of fishing permits for U.S.-flagged vessels operating on the high seas would require minimization of impacts on penguins. The Act also compels federal agencies to ensure that their actions — including those generating large volumes of carbon pollution — do not jeopardize endangered species and their habitat.



A Nice Day For A Penguin Wedding

January 12, 2014

You’ve heard of a “white wedding”, well why not a “black and white wedding”?  Well, a  couple did just that on Friday as they tied the knot at Seaworld’s Antarctica: Empire Of The Penguins exhibit. The Penguin Post is happy to announce that Jeff and Susanne Grieve braved the chilly conditions and exchanged their vows in the company of family, snow and a whole lot of penguins. 250 penguins to be exact, and of course they were all dressed for the occasion in their natural black and white tuxedos. The cool wedding in the Antarctic environment was perfect for this couple after meeting in 2012 while working in Antarctica. They said they wanted to recreate the moment where it all started. “Antarctica is a really intense, remote environment, where we met,” Susanne said.  For the time being Seaworld will have to do to replicate that feeling, and the human guests all agreed that it was a great thing this was a heart-warming occasion, because it was a constant 32 degrees throughout the wedding ceremony. The couple said they hope to return to the real Antarctica one day, but are planning a warm weather honeymoon.1389479209983