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Satellite tracking will help answer questions about penguin travels

You could understand if a half-dozen Magellanic penguins developed a "big bird is watching" phobia before this month is over, but the surveillance really will be for their own good.

University of Washington scientists will attach satellite tracking devices to the backs of six penguins that have been treated at two centers in northern Argentina after their feathers were fouled with oil. The birds will be released into the Atlantic Ocean and their movements traced using satellites and the Internet.

The idea is to plug a critical gap in the knowledge of the Magellanics' annual life cycle, their movements on the journey from their winter feeding grounds back to their breeding colonies along the southern Argentina coast and the Islas Malvinas, or Falkland Islands.

"We're missing that information. We know what happens when they leave the breeding grounds but we don't know what happens on the return trip," said Elizabeth Skewgar, a University of Washington doctoral student in biology.

"We want to model the energy requirements for these birds so that we understand what it takes to return to the breeding grounds and still have enough energy to reproduce. Human fisheries competing for the same food could make migration even more difficult for them."

The project is led by Dee Boersma, a UW biology professor who for 25 years has headed the Magellanic Penguin Project at Punta Tombo, Argentina, the birds' largest breeding colony in South America.

"We need to know how penguins use the ocean so we can make their migration route safe through a combination of national marine parks, marine protected areas and ocean zoning," Boersma said.

During the week of Aug. 20, the scientists will select six adult male penguins from rehabilitation centers at San Clemente del Tuyu and Mar del Plata, coastal towns more than 500 miles north of P
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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
6-Aug-2007


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