July 31, 2008

Penguins Arriving Closer To Equator In Larger Numbers

About 300 penguins originating from frigid waters are being found washed up on shores closer to the equator than usual, according to Brazilian wildlife authorities.

The capital city of Salvador is roughly 600 miles closer to the equator than Miami, and temperatures in the current Southern Hemisphere winter are in the mid-70s.

"This is unheard of. There have even been reports of penguins washing up as far as Aracaju," Silva said, referring to a beachside state capital even closer to the equator.

Biologists attribute some of the changes to a stronger-than-usual series of ocean currents that have pulled the birds north. Some also say penguins may be forced northward in search of food due to overfishing in Patagonia and Antarctica.

"We're telling people if the penguins don't appear to be injured or sick to leave them alone so they can swim back," Silva said.

Hundreds of calls have poured in reporting penguin sightings.

Rescued penguins have swamped a triage center for rescued birds, and Silva said about 90 of the birds found alive have since died.

While penguins commonly wash up as far north as Rio de Janeiro state in July and August - hundreds have done so this year. Bahia is roughly 750 miles northeast of Rio.

"The last time that you got a lot of penguins was in 2000, mostly in Rio but some further north. That year the sea surface temperature was a degree lower than the 30 year average so the penguins just keep swimming in search of food without noticing where they're going," said P. Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington who works with penguins in Argentina.

She also said overfishing near Patagonia and Antarctica could be a factor. In the past decade, penguins have had to swim an average of 40 miles further north to find food.