July 17, 2011

Researchers Tracking Endangered African Penguins

South African researchers are in the process of attaching satellite transmitters to young African penguins in an effort to track the endangered birds and perhaps one day discover a heretofore unknown breeding colony.

According to the Telegraph, a total of five penguins are set to be part of the project, the first of which was released into the wild last month. The second--a six pound, 10 week old bird that goes by the name of Richie--was outfitted with a matchbox-sized transmitter on Friday.

"Richie will be given a week to get used to swimming in a pool with the 30-gram (1-ounce) device before he's released into the ocean from the southern tip of Africa," added Donna Bryson of the Associated Press (AP). The remaining African penguins involved in the project will be "released over a few months," she noted in a report Friday.

Also known as the jackass penguin because of its unique braying call, the African penguin is "endearingly awkward on land but a gracefully efficient hunter in the water," said Bryson. Their population is declining rapidly, however, as Venessa Strauss from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) told the AP that their numbers had plummeted from 4 million in the early 1900s to just 60,000 during a census conducted last year.

Bryson reports that Strauss believes mankind is responsible for the decrease of these particular penguins. As the AP reporter wrote, "Humans collected penguin eggs for food, ending the practice in the 1960s. The harvesting of penguin guano for fertilizer stripped a hard layer of the substance in which adult birds had burrowed to create nests safe from predators and the sun. More recently, a new threat came with oil spills and commercial fishing's competition for the anchovies and sardines on which penguins feed."

By using a special type of glue and tape to attach these tracking devices to the penguins, scientists are hoping that the devices will stay in place long enough to learn about these creatures. In particular, they are hoping to learn what type of environment would be right for the researchers to establish a breeding colony and/or a hatchery, according to the Telegraph.

The first penguin, named Lucy, has reportedly been able to swim an average of 28 miles per day--a discovery that, according to both the AP and the Telegraph, surprised researchers who did not expect that a young penguin would be able to cover those kinds of distances.


On the Net: