As the world's spiraling population creates greater demand for resources, the southern Atlantic Ocean is becoming a more popular spot to consider for fishing and oil exploration. But University of Washington zoologists and a Falkland Islands researcher have found that such interest could prove detrimental to Falklands penguins, whose numbers already could be declining.
Since 1995, Dee Boersma, a UW zoology professor; David Stokes, now at Sonoma State University in California; and Ian Strange, who operates the New Island South Conservation Trust in the Falklands, have monitored behavior and movements of three penguin species Gentoos, Rockhoppers and Magellanics.
The birds live on the New Island preserve at the far west edge of the Falklands, about 300 miles off the coast of Argentina. To track how far they range for food, the researchers attached transmitters to the penguins and found that, while Gentoos tended to stay within 20 miles of the preserve, Rockhoppers, the smallest of the three species, swam 180 miles or more.
England, which owns the Falklands, and Argentina fought a war over possession of the islands 20 years ago. But in recent years the British, Falklands and Argentine governments have forged closer ties, and have formed a Special Cooperation Area for oil and gas exploration. That zone lies about 70 miles southwest of New Island, well within the range of foraging Rockhoppers.
In addition, fleets from several nations are licensed to fish within Falklands territorial waters, which are adjacent to large areas of the south Atlantic that are not under the control of any nation.
For Boersma, a leading conservation biologist, and Strange, who founded the New Island South Conservation Trust, the situation is worrisome. That's because oil spills and being caught up in fishing nets are among the most serious perils penguins can face in the open ocean, and there is evidence that some of the Falklands penguin species alr
Contact: Vince Stricherz
University of Washington