They're waddling across the ice to grab a soda, hawking cough drops and lending their "well-dressed" image to vodka, cookies, books, golf shirts and frozen yogurt. They're driving BMWs, riding trains and pushing through the jungle to get a Bud Ice. Indeed, the penguin seems to be on every advertiser's fantasy list these days.
But in the real world, the penguin's very existence is being threatened by fishing fleets and oil tankers.
Starvation is a major cause of death for newly hatched penguins, the result of dwindling marine food reserves. To feed their families, adult birds are forced to forage great distances from their breeding colonies, says Dee Boersma, professor of zoology at the University of Washington and one of the world's leading authorities on temperate-zone penguins. Indeed, her latest research shows that birds from the Punta Tombo penguin reserve in southern Argentina sometimes travel more than 300 miles from their nesting sites.
Boersma's research is the first to show that the temperate species of penguin, ranging from Magellenics to Humboldts, do not forage close to shore as previously thought. Instead, these small, flightless birds are capable of swimming hundreds of miles, journeys that take three weeks or more, to find food for themselves and their chicks.
"The major cause of chick mortality is starvation, often the result of a parent failing to return from a long foraging trip in time with food, " says Boersma. For the past 15 years she has been following the fortunes of the roughly half million birds at a 500-acre reserve at Punta Tombo, the largest penguin colony on the South American continent. Boersma is the director of the Magellanic Penguin Project, supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society under an agreement with the province of Chubut.
In past years, other researchers followed breeding penguins on
their food expeditions by monitoring radio signals from transmitters
glued to the b
Contact: David Brand
University of Washington