Stories tagged penguins

Jun
02
2009

All eyes on penguin poop: Hey guys, don't worry where you poop. No one's gonna see where you've done it, especially any prying eyes from out in space.
All eyes on penguin poop: Hey guys, don't worry where you poop. No one's gonna see where you've done it, especially any prying eyes from out in space.Courtesy NASA
It might not be a good day for emperor penguins. That daily activity that we all do – the elimination of our solid waste – is letting the cat out of the bag on the migration patterns of Antarctica's largest birds.

Researchers using NASA satellite photos to look at their bases in Antarctica found something odd with the photos: large red streaks in otherwise colorless sea ice areas. Causing the strange coloration is emperor penguin poop. It's a huge discovery among the penguin researching crowd as they've had a hard time locating the breeding grounds of these penguins.

Here's the full report.

Since the emperors spend several months on the ice during their winter breeding season, the poop accumulates so much that it can be seen from space. And it's no ordinary poop. It's high in salt and high in odor, making it very undesirable to be around for humans. One researcher said he's lost a dozen pair of boots to salt damage caused by the penguin poop.

From the vantage point of space, scientists have been able to pinpoint 38 emperor penguin breeding areas, including the appearance of 10 new breeding site and disappearance of six old sites from the previous land-based mapping effort. All in all, it's good news for the emperor penguin population, which was thought to be in crisis because of diminishing ice surfaces around the edges of Antarctica.

Still skeptical about this? Here's a video report that shows what we're talking about here.

Jul
21
2008

A baby penguin: Enjoy it while it lasts.
A baby penguin: Enjoy it while it lasts.Courtesy Ben Cooper
Nature is playing a funny joke on the world. It involves cute, baby penguins, and the tropical beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The punch line: the baby penguins are dead, and the beaches of Rio are covered in them.

Ho ho ho! Nice one, Nature!

You’ve all heard of the Circle of Life, I’m sure, and dead baby penguins are a beautiful part of that process, but this year something seems awry—namely that there are tons more dead baby penguins in Brazil than you’d normally expect.

The cause of the baby penguin die off is still unclear, but local zoo officials (the only authorities quoted in this article) believe that it may have to do with pollution, or over fishing causing the penguins to swim further for food than they normally would. Baby penguins would not be as able to contend with stronger ocean currents further from shore, and they’d, you know, drown and die.

So it may not be totally accurate to say that it’s Nature’s fault that all the baby penguins died. But it seems like something Nature would do.

Apr
02
2008

A king penguin makes his dignified way: to the chopping block.
A king penguin makes his dignified way: to the chopping block.Courtesy VivaAntarctica
As Americans, I’m sure we call all agree that regicide is awesome. I mean, we don’t generally participate in it, but we appreciate it. And, say what you will of the French, they have a sympathetic tradition, which makes the alarmist tone of recent findings out of the French Academy of Sciences somewhat surprising: it seems that the guillotine blade of global warming is slowly descending toward the gilded necks of the king penguins.

Despite what we might wish, though, the king penguins are not actually being decapitated. The French (and Norwegian) research team, in fact, began to notice a strong correlation between ocean temperatures, and king penguin breeding success. It makes sense when you think about it—monarchies have always been vulnerable to breeding issues.

Tracking a portion of the 2 million strong population of king penguins on the Crozet Islands, the researchers observed that the penguins were having to travel further and further from their colonies to forage for food (usually between 300 and 600 km, and sometimes as far as 2000 km). The reason for this, scientists believe, is that many marine organisms prosper only at lower ocean temperatures, and king penguins—living at the top of the food chain—depend on these organisms for sustenance. As the waters near their islands warm, nearby food becomes scarce, and the less food the penguins can bring back to their chicks, the smaller their chance of survival becomes. According to the team’s model, an increase in just .26 degrees Celsius will lead to a 9 percent decrease in king penguins’ survival rate.

Bad news if you’re a penguin. Or if you’re into penguins. Or… Maybe I do understand why the French are so nervous about the decline of king penguins—after all, who would better understand what would probably take their place.

Scientists have discovered the fossil of a giant electric killer penguin in Peru. Quick, somebody call Scott of the Sahara!

(For real information on penguins, go here.)

Mar
06
2007


Awwww, cuuuute!: Photogenic species get more attention from conservation groups than ugly ones do. Photo NSF.

Giant pandas. Bald eagles. Sea turtles. Certain animals elicit a strong emotional response from people. Conservation efforts focused on these “charismatic megafauna” often meet with success.

But there are other endangered species as well. The red rat snake. The white wartyback mussel. The dromedary jumping slug. These creatures all perform important ecological services. But it’s a lot harder to get people excited about saving a slug.

David Stokes, a biologist at the University of Washington, studied popular penguin books and found that species with a little bit of color in their plumage get a disproportionate amount of attention, even though the plain black-and-white ones may be more endangered.

Stokes feels conservation groups need to figure out what features of an animal catch our attention, and then use that to help the less-photogenic animals. Emphasizing beautiful color might help some of the “ugly” species I listed above.

For a slide show on Stokes’ work, go here.