Posts Tagged ‘King Penguins’

Year Of The Penguin

October 9, 2015

There are all sorts of landmark years. This year marks The Year Of The Penguin as 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first penguin to be kept in Japan.

“Penguin Arrives” was the headline of an Asahi Shimbun article in June 1915 about the arrival of a Humboldt penguin at the Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo. But the subhead stated bluntly, “It is expected to die soon.”

Sure enough, the paper’s headline proclaimed nine days later, “Penguin Dead.” According to the article, the keepers had done everything in vain to care for the bird, giving it plenty of ice and lots of fresh fish. Native to Chile, Humboldt penguins normally tolerate heat well. But this particular bird had been transported over a long distance, which probably stressed it out. Also, the keepers were not experienced in handling a penguin.

A century has since passed, and Japan today is said to be the world’s No. 1 penguin keeper. As of 2012, there were about 3,600 penguins of 11 species at zoos around the nation, where they are noted crowd-pleasers.

In the wild, however, some species are declining in population. Among them is the Humboldt, which accounts for the largest number among species kept in Japan.

Another species that has undergone drastic depopulation is the African penguin, which inhabits the southwestern coast of Africa. And should global warming increase, the population of the statuesque Emperor penguin in Antarctica, standing more than 1 meter tall, is expected to shrink.

These exotic birds in “tail coats” were made known to the Japanese people by the Japanese antarctic expedition of 1910-1912, led by army Lt. Nobu Shirase. Photographs of penguins taken on the expedition survive today, and one team member was said to have penned this haiku: “It is so frigid, penguins dance on ice floes.”

Shirase referred to penguins as “extremely comical creatures” in his log. He probably did not know about their aquatic prowess. Emperor penguins have been recorded diving more than 600 meters–a feat no human could ever emulate.

Penguins are taken on walks through the snow at Asahiyama Zoo twice a day from December to March

Penguins are taken on walks through the snow at Asahiyama Zoo twice a day from December to March

Penguins As Job Bait

September 11, 2015

Government officials in the Falkland Islands are hoping that a photograph of two penguins might encourage a UK lawyer to apply for a job opening managing courts in the Falkland Islands.

The Falkland Islands Government has attached the penguin picture to a job advertisement next to the question “Looking for Something Different?”  Since there are many times more penguins in the Falklands than people.

The Penguin Post has learned that Falkland officials have advertised the new Head of Courts and Tribunal Services job, which pays between £38,000 and £53,000 a year, in London-based legal magazine Counsel.


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

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

King Penguin Chicks Have Built In GPS

June 26, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that displaced King penguin chicks navigate well in pairs as they find their way back to base in their colony, according to a new study. King penguin chicks gather together in “creches” as they wait for parents to return with food, and if a chick gets moved to a different place in the colony it is important to get back so that the parents can find it, says researcher Anna Nesterova from the University of Oxford in England. “King penguin colonies are very crowded and can stretch for more almost a mile on the relatively flat and featureless beaches, yet individual penguins still know how to find their place within such colonies,” she says.


‘King penguin colonies are very crowded and can stretch for more than 1km on the relatively flat and featureless beaches, yet individuals know how to find their place within such colonies’

Nesterova and colleagues tracked 31 pairs of chicks that were artificially separated from their creches as they made their way back to the correct part of the Ratmanoff colony on the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean about midway between Australia, South Africa and Antarctica.

Kerguelen_MapThe chicks navigated well in pairs, and even took turns leading in some cases. Also, pairs from the same creche arrived closer to their original location than pairs where the individual chicks were from different creches. The study, which was funded by the Institut Polaire Français and Marie Curie Actions and published in Animal Behaviour, will help us to better understand group navigation in animals, according to Nesterova, who was surprised at how quickly the chicks from different creches split up along their path back. “The chicks like to be in a group, but going towards the right destination seems to be more important,” she says. “It makes sense: if you do not know where your partner is heading, it is better not to take the risk and end up at the wrong end of the colony.”

King Penguins: Past, Present and Future

June 11, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that King penguins colonized a string of islands north of Antarctica about 15,000 years ago, after glaciers melted and the climate warmed, according to a new genetic study. The balmier weather gave the penguins two things they needed to thrive: ice-free pockets of land on which to raise their chicks, and food  within swimming range for feeding those chicks, the study found. “When you have these two conditions, these two parameters that are met, then the population can just explode,” said study co-author Emiliano Trucchi, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Vienna in Austria.


King penguins are the second-largest penguins in the world and live on more temperate islands that are closest to Antarctica, such as South Georgia, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. But the biggest breeding grounds for king penguins are on the Crozet Islands, a string of islands in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.  In the summer, the penguins dive for tiny lanternfishes about 250 miles from the archipelago, returning every three to five days to feed their chicks. The lanternfishes congregate in an ocean region called the polar front, where cold polar water meets the warmer tropical water, creating a sharp temperature gradient. In the winter, the penguins venture about 620 miles to the fringes of Antarctica to forage for food, though exactly what they eat is a mystery, said study co-author Céline Le Bohec, a polar ecologist at the Centre Scientifique de Monaco.


To understand how the Kings first reached the Crozet Islands, Le Bohec and her colleagues snuck onto the edges of the penguins’ breeding colonies, quietly taking two- to three-week-old chicks from right under their parents’ noses and replacing them with fake eggs. “This is really weird,” Le Bohec said.  “If you are delicate enough and quick enough, really the adult doesn’t notice what you are doing.” Outside the colony, the researchers measured the baby penguins’ weights, as well as the beaks, flippers and feet. Then, the team took a few drops of blood from the chicks to test their DNA. (Past studies have shown that the king penguin colonies have adjusted to these human intrusions.)

The team analyzed about 65,000 snippets of DNA from eight king penguins. Because the base pairs, or letters in DNA, mutate at a slow but somewhat predictable rate over time, calculating how many of these stretches of DNA contain the same letter sequence can reveal how long ago the population expanded.

The team found that most of the genetic regions were very similar in the penguins, indicating that they originated from a very small initial population. Furthermore, the population began expanding about 15,000 years ago — right after the last ice age was ending and the glaciers were retreating from the islands. “Just as soon as the breeding sites were available, then the population just skyrocketed,” Trucchi added.

The new model underscores conditions the penguins need to thrive, which could help researchers predict how penguins will adapt to climate change. But the future doesn’t look so hot for the King penguins. Current models predict that unmitigated climate change will push the polar front south, taking the penguins’ summer staple of lanternfishes farther from the islands.

This will make it hard for the penguins to live on the islands, as they need to feed their chicks frequently in the summer, and can only swim so far to do that, Le Bohec said. “If we don’t change our human behavior, I think in 200 years, it will be quite nasty for king penguins,” Le Bohec said.

Fuzzy King Penguin Hatchlings = Cute!

May 29, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that a pair of fuzzy, baseball-sized king penguins have hatched at the Newport Aquarium near Cincinnati, and parents and chicks are healthy and happy, biologists report.  The aquarium announced the news Thursday morning after observing the chicks and their interaction with their parents since Saturday morning. The two are the fifth and sixth penguins born at the aquarium since it opened 15 years ago.  The chicks, which aren’t siblings, started to pip – or chip away –at their eggs Friday evening and poked out and fully hatched Saturday morning. “These were some of the biggest king penguin chicks I’ve ever seen,” said Dan Clady, Newport Aquarium biologist, in a statement. Clady manages the animal care at the cold penguin exhibit.

Baby King Chick gets a once over

Baby King Chick gets a cleaning

Foster parents are taking care of one of the chicks, because its parents weren’t particularly good at caring for their egg after it was laid. The parents’ main job is to keep their egg – and then, their chick – warm and safe by keeping it on their feet and tucked under their bellies. “We prefer the parents to raise the chicks on their own and they’ve taken those responsibilities seriously,” Clady said. The chicks share an April 4 egg-laying date, said Jeff Geiser, spokesman for the aquarium.

One of the fuzzy King babies

One of the fuzzy King baby penguins

King penguins Valentine (the foster mom) and Bubba (foster dad), cared for the egg and are taking good care of the chick, Geiser said. The biological parents of this chick are Dumas (mom) and Kroger (dad). The other chick is a third-generation king penguin hatched at the Newport Aquarium. Its parents are Wednesday (mom) and Bebe (dad). Wednesday is the last chick that hatched at the Newport Aquarium, in 2010, Geiser said. The simultaneous hatching of two unrelated king penguins is a rarity, Geiser said. Over the last 10 years at Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions in the United States, there have been an average of only 14 king penguin simultaneous hatchings annually.

Interesting way for a baby King penguin to get weighed

Interesting way for a baby King penguin to get weighed

The Newport chicks were in the Kroger Penguin Palooza exhibit when they hatched. Newport Aquarium is one of 16 institutions in the United States to exhibit king penguins. Kroger Penguin Palooza has nine adult king penguins, as well as chinstrap, gentoo, macaroni and rockhopper penguins. A sixth penguin species, the African black-footed penguin, is also on exhibit at Newport Aquarium in the Penguin House.

Tracking Young King Penguins

May 18, 2014

Why are some young penguins able to survive on their own when so many others aren’t? To find out, scientists enlisted the help of 18 fledgling king penguins that were getting ready to leave their home colonies. All of the birds were outfitted with transponders that sent signals to satellites, allowing scientists to track the penguins’ whereabouts.


Only about half of the king penguin chicks born in the wild survive to their first birthday, and the ones that don’t make it are most vulnerable in the weeks after they set off on their own. Why are some birds able to survive when so many others aren’t?

To find out, scientists enlisted the help of 18 fledgling king penguins that were getting ready to leave their home colonies. From the Falkland Islands off the southern coast of Argentina, the volunteers included Leo, Jacki, Susi, Gus, Iona, Caldera, Hansueli, WaRu, RuWa and Youngster. From South Georgia Island, a British territory several hundred miles to the east, researchers got help from Dixi, Wicky, Tankini, Ueli, Ursula, Saanenland, Traudel and King Georg.

Penguins at Edinburgh Zoo

All of these birds were outfitted with transponders that sent signals to satellites, allowing scientists to track the penguins’ whereabouts, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. The 60-gram devices were “hydrodynamically shaped in order to minimise drag and centered on the middle of the back in order not to compromise the penguins’ balance or create excessive hydrodynamic drag.” Scientists attached them to the penguins with black waterproof tape, glue and epoxy.

More than 3 million king penguins live on islands just north of Antarctica, including 450,000 breeding pairs on South Georgia and about 720 breeding pairs on the Falkland Islands. They feed on small fish they catch along the Antarctic Polar Front, a roughly 25-mile-wide zone encircling Antarctica where cold waters sink below warmer ones from the north. When they are caring for hatchlings and stay closer to home, they also hunt for squid.

Though not endangered, king penguins are protected. Permission to tag the young birds was granted by the Animal Ethics Committee of the British Antarctic Survey.

The researchers, from Europe, Argentina and the Falkland Islands, attached transponders to the fledgling penguins in December 2007. The devices emitted signals once a minute for four hours a day. Between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2008, the researchers determined the most accurate position for each day and included that data in their analysis. Altogether, they collected location data for a total of 2,111 penguin-days, with a typical penguin being tracked for 117 days.

The researchers found that the South Georgia penguins exhibited the same types of behavior as the ones from the Falkland Islands. On most days, birds in both groups swam no more than 10 kilometers. But occasional long hauls of more than 100 km per day pushed the daily average up to 45 km. Overall, Ursula stayed closest to home, venturing only 661 km from her colony over 78 days; Youngster traveled the farthest, covering 4,783 km over 261 days.

In the first 20 days of the study, 15 of the 18 penguins headed straight for the Antarctic Polar Front. The Falkland Island penguins arrived from the north, and the South Georgia penguins swam up from the south, according to the study.

Half of the penguins were still checking in after 100 days, including eight that were tracked for more than four months. Seven of those birds headed west to the Pacific Ocean and stayed their until their transponders stopped sending signals. The remaining penguin, Youngster, went east into the Indian Ocean, then headed south toward the winter ice, the researchers reported.

At first, the tagged penguins kept their distance from the adult king penguins, something that has been observed in other species. This may give the fledglings a chance to hone their foraging skills without having to compete with more experienced hunters, the researchers wrote. Similar behaviors have been observed in other bird and mammal species in the Southern Ocean, though by the winter months (late June through late September) the younger animals migrate back into waters where their elders look for food.

King penguins usually spend four or five years “exploring the Southern Ocean” before they settle down and start breeding, the researchers noted.

The New Penguins Are Here!

May 10, 2014

The new penguins are here, the new penguins are here!  Actually, the new penguins have been here for a few weeks now, but as of this weekend the penguin loving public can now see them.  Thirteen new penguins were introduced to the Helzberg Penguin Plaza at the Kansas City Zoo on Friday. The penguins, nine Gentoo and four King penguins, were brought in from Sea World, San Antonio.

Herzberg Plaza Penguin House at the Kansas City Zoo

Helzberg Penguin Plaza at the Kansas City Zoo

They arrived last month via a refrigerated truck and have spent the last 30 days in isolation just to make sure they were healthy. The new additions bring the Kansas City penguin population to 50. Zoo officials said the newcomers are being welcomed with opened wings.penguinsinside2

“They’re all just kind of checking each other out, and they typically live in huge groups. We have a mural on the wall that shows how big of groups they can live in so it’s pretty normal for them to have a lot of birds around,” Kansas City Zoo Animal Supervisor Andrea O’Daniels said.You can find out more about the penguins during feeding time: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. every day.