Penguins in Trouble Worldwide ( I'm close to tears )

To: John Gamblin <>
Subject: Penguins in Trouble Worldwide ( I'm close to tears )
From: Laurie & Leanne Knight <>
Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001 18:24:48 +1000
John Gamblin wrote:
> G'day All,
> I've just had this superb article sent to me by a very
> kind USA gentleman it's from thee New york times none
> the less and I was wondering, that keeping in mind the
> uproar that was generated last year on this list with
> the shearwater/muttonbird deaths of over 2 million
> birds, could there be a common link perhaps?

Crikey Penne Gwenne, you've only attached the first half of the
article.  How could you keep your readers hanging in suspense?  [After
all, the fairy penguin parade in your neck of the woods features
prominantly at the end ...]

Here is the full item from "yesterday's" New York Times ...

June 26, 2001

Penguins in Trouble Worldwide

Harry's habits were as predictable as clockwork, so when he did not
return from his last ocean voyage  as expected, Dr. Dee Boersma knew
something was wrong.

"We had signals until Dec. 6," said Dr. Boersma, a penguin researcher at
the University of Washington who encountered Harry ? a penguin outfitted
with his own satellite transmitter ? at a nesting area at Punta Tombo,
Argentina. Harry headed out to forage at sea while his mate took her
turn on their eggs, Dr. Boersma related. "Then we never heard from him
again. We looked for him to come back every day. We just don't have
adult birds disappear like that."

But late last year and early this year, the summer breeding season in
the Southern Hemisphere, Magellanic penguins like Harry did disappear at
sea. Thousands more washed up dead on the beaches north of Punta Tombo.
Many birds abandoned their nests, leaving chicks to starve. Among the
survivors, many were in bad shape, having difficulty finding the fish
they needed to sustain themselves.

"This is the worst year ever," said Dr. Boersma, whose studies of the
colony over 18 years have been supported by the Wildlife Conservation
Society. "And we keep getting a lot of bad years."

Researchers say the Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo, which have
steadily decreased in number for more than a decade, are not alone.
Around the world, many penguin populations are declining, researchers
say, and evidence is mounting that global warming, whether natural or
human-induced, is a prime cause.

Unless things change, they say, the outlook for some of these penguin
species will be grim. Ten of the world's 17 penguin species are already
listed as threatened or endangered.

Though a few species are thriving, "penguins, in general, are
experiencing some really serious problems," said Dr. Lloyd Davis,
penguin biologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. "They are
in trouble."

In addition to climate change, Dr. Davis said problems like overfishing
and oil spills threatened these flightless birds. Penguins' best hope
for overcoming these many obstacles, scientists say, may be their
abundant adorability and the protection and money it can bring.

One typically thinks of penguins as waddling about atop miles of
featureless ice, but many of the penguins at greatest risk are those
species that have strayed farthest from the South Pole.

The endangered Galápagos penguin, a tropical species, is also one of the
rarest. Found only on the Galápagos islands off Ecuador, these birds
have been hard hit by rising temperatures. Dr. Boersma and others
studying the penguins have found that the warmer the waters, the more
the birds struggle to find food and to breed. In the warmest years,
birds can fail to breed altogether and large numbers of adults can die
of starvation.

Two other South American penguin species, the Magellanic and Humboldt,
also suffer as waters warm. Since 1987, the number of Magellanic
penguins at Punta Tombo has declined by 30 percent. It remains the
world's largest colony of the species, still numbering in the hundreds
of thousands, but, as with other penguins, the downward trend has
researchers worried.

"If we get a series of intense El Niños, they're going to disappear,"
Dr. Patricia Majluf, conservation biologist at Wildlife Conservation
Society, said of the colony of Humboldt penguins she studies, whose
numbers are also dropping. "We lost half during one bad El Niño and
these are very slow breeding birds."

El Niño is a phenomenon that comes and goes every few years in which the
waters of the eastern tropical Pacific warm up, a change that can drive
fish and other penguin prey far from colonies. The result, scientists
find, can range from decreased egg sizes or deaths of chicks to, in a
few cases, large-scale deaths of adults.

In cooler La Niña years, colonies can begin to recoup their losses. But
in recent decades, the number and intensity of El Niños has increased
while La Niñas have declined.

As for Harry and the other dead or missing penguins, researchers now
suspect that they succumbed to a biological toxin like a red tide and
again, scientists say the evidence points to climate change as the
culprit. Such toxic blooms are associated with warming ocean waters.

Dr. Boersma said she got her first inkling that biological toxins might
be at work when a freshly dead penguin floated ashore this winter. "It
had an empty stomach that looked like it had been washed with acid," she
said, adding that otherwise it seemed well fed and healthy. "He looked
fine, except that he was dead."

Other die-offs, also suspected to have been caused by biological toxins,
have hit penguins elsewhere.

"In 1990, over half the known yellow-eyed penguins died from some
mysterious disease," said John Darby, seabird conservationist, now
retired from the University of Otago, who has studied these endangered
penguins in New Zealand for 22 years. "It was quite extraordinary. They
were just dying all over the place, at their nests, on the beaches."

These penguins also looked healthy; Mr. Darby said he and colleagues
believed that a biological toxin killed them as well.

Yellow-eyed penguins are unusual in that they require forest for
nesting, putting them in proximity to New Zealanders who have logged to
make way for farming. In other areas, penguins must compete with growing
fishing industries. Oil spills have killed off many penguins and in Peru
the endangered Humboldt is at additional risk because it is considered a
good meal by people near the colonies.

Even the penguins in remote Antarctica, which tend to be doing better in
terms of absolute numbers, can suffer declines when the bitterly cold
seas warm.

Dr. Christophe Barbraud and Dr. Henri Weimerskirch, from the National
Center for Scientific Research in France, reported in the journal Nature
last month that warming seas and a decline in sea ice were linked to a
50 percent drop in numbers in a well-studied population of emperor
penguins over the last 50 years.

In what may be the best understood of penguin declines, Dr. Wayne
Trivelpiece, director of seabird research for the United States
Antarctic Marine Living Resources program, and colleagues have studied
Adelie penguins.

What researchers have discovered is that as the seas have warmed in
recent decades, the annual formation of winter sea ice no longer
reliably extends to its usual reaches north of the South Shetland
Islands. Instead, since the middle of the 1970's, this pack ice formed
in that region only two years out of every six to eight years.

The pack ice contains a store of frozen diatoms, a critical food source
for young crustaceans known as krill, which are the only food of Adelie
penguins. Without pack ice in their spawning grounds, the entire
generation of new krill dies and the only krill alive are those that
survived from the last winter when there was pack ice.

With the pack ice forming less frequently, the krill have declined and
penguin numbers have experienced sometimes sharp drops.

But Dr. Trivelpiece said the real problem was that ice had not formed in
the krill spawning grounds now for six winters ? about as long as most
krill can live. Dr. Trivelpiece said that without a winter's ice soon,
the last of the aging krill might never have the chance to reproduce
before they expired, crashing the krill population and threatening even
healthy populations of Adelies now living at the bottom of the world.

"We're really out on the wire right now," Dr. Trivelpiece said. "If we
don't get ice this winter or next, the whole house of cards will come

But penguins do have a formidable weapon: their extreme cuteness. Money
to protect them has flowed in from tourists as well as wealthy
benefactors who want to help these tuxedoed charmers.

Mr. Darby said yellow-eyed penguins had been adopted as mascots of a New
Zealand cheese made by Mainland Products Ltd., whose commercials had
long featured an elderly fellow who walked with a bit of a waddle. He
said the addition of a waddling yellow-eyed penguin to the ads had been
a huge success; over the years the company has provided more than a
million dollars for work to protect the species.

In other places, penguins are tourist attractions, providing public
relations protection and fund-raising for the birds. At Punta Tombo,
each year 50,000 tourists, mostly Argentines, come to see what Dr.
Boersma calls the "penguin megatropolis" of thousands and thousands of
Magellanic penguins.

This black and white spectacle of birds ? known as jackass penguins
because of their braying call ? has become so beloved that researchers
say proposals in the 1980's to harvest the penguin skins to make gloves
would never be considered today.

In Australia, a daily "penguin parade" of what can be hundreds or
thousands of birds known as little penguins regularly draws paying
tourists providing a source of income that has financed much research on
managing the population. Tourists gather to watch the masses of petite
penguins toddle out each morning to forage at sea and then return each
evening to march back to their burrows.

"These are the most fantastic natural history spectacles," Dr. Boersma
said. "I haven't met a person yet who didn't love penguins."
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