Saturday, February 6, 2016

Here's the Latest on Penguins

Emperor penguin chicks huddle for warmth. New research shows that huddling behavior, or aggregation, may vary across penguin colonies. (David Tipling/Nature Picture Library/Corbis)

Adelie penguins "porpoise" as they hunt. (Michael Nolan/robertharding/Corbis)

From invasive "fairies" to huddling chicks, penguins are the perfect pick-me-up

Looking for a pick-me-up? Look south—adorable penguins have the ability to make just about anyone smile. Whether they’re fuzzy chicks or magestic adults, penguins continue to capture the imagination of both the public and researchers hungry to learn more about what makes them tick. Here’s the latest in penguin news:

“Fairy” penguins were also invaders 

You can find little blue or “fairy” penguins in both Australia and New Zealand, but last year researchers determined that they’re actually different species. Now the penguin plot has thickened: Using ancient DNA analysis, researchers from the University of Otago discovered that the ones in New Zealand first came from Australia about 400 years ago.

The relatively recent invasion is thought to have happened after humans arrived in New Zealand after the 13th century. Human impacts on the original species seemingly opened up a hole for opportunistic penguins from Australia, who moved in and took over.
“They may be the cutest invaders ever,” writes The Guardian’s Michael Slezak. But that doesn’t mean their invasion was necessarily a good thing. In their paper, researchers note that the decline of native species might be masked by invasive ones.

Now scientists know why penguin chicks huddle 

In happier (and even cuter) news, consider the penguin chick. The young ones are known for huddling into squeal-worthy groups. But why? That’s the question researchers from the University of Oxford asked when they studied a group of Pygoscelis papua, or gentoo penguins. Chicks from this species, which is the third largest penguin, form what scientist call “aggregations”—clumps of huddled birds.
To get a better sense of what makes chicks snuggle up, researchers used time-lapse cameras. They discovered that the aggregations help baby penguins save energy and stay warm in antarctic conditions. Surprisingly, they found that the specific aggregating behavior may be different across penguin colonies, even if it’s precious across the board.


#Penguins of the Day

Caption This Photo 

Emperor penguins by U.S. Geological Survey

This Week's Pencognito!

Friday, February 5, 2016

#Penguins of the Day


Adelie penguin juvenile by J.D. Gantz


Adelie penguin molting by J.D. Gantz

Kuechly the penguin takes on mini Peyton Manning in cute video

Kuechly the penguin wishes Luke Kuechly and the rest of the Carolina Panthers good luck at Super Bowl 50! #KeepPounding (Photo: Greensboro Science Center/YouTube)
Kuechly the penguin wishes Luke Kuechly and the rest of the Carolina Panthers good luck at Super Bowl 50! #KeepPounding (Photo: Greensboro Science Center/YouTube)

By Elizabeth Bynum

GREENSBORO, NC (WWAY) — Carolina Panthers fans come in all shapes and sizes. Even a penguin is pulling for the boys in blue on Sunday.

In a video posted by the Greensboro Science Center, Kuechly the penguin takes on a mini Peyton Manning. The penguin, named for star player Luke Kuechly, easily defeats the mini football team, an event many Panthers fans hope is a foreshadow for Super Bowl 50.

Congrats Kuechly the penguin! Keep Pounding!


Lucky stiffs! 18 Detroit Zoo staffers on 10-day trip to Antarctica

Mike Martindale, The Detroit News 
February 4, 2016
Royal Oak — Eighteen employees of the Detroit Zoo are on a privately funded cruise to Antarctica this week after not enough major donors were able to fill the available slots.

The zoo is paying the approximately $36,000 combined airfare for the staffers, including zoo CEO Ron Kagan, to get from Detroit to Punta Arenas, Chile. They are joining 35 major donors on the voyage.

Six zoo employees originally were scheduled to go.

Staffers on the trip include the zoo’s chief operating officer, chief development officer, chief financial officer, two veterinarians, a curator, researcher, educational staff and others who are experts in researching and caring for penguins.

The trip, which began Monday, comes as the zoo is completing work on the $29.5 million Polk Penguin Conservation Center, which is scheduled to open in April.

The major donors are paying for most of the trip, sponsored by the Detroit Zoological Society, that begins at King George Island near the Antarctic Circle. The voyage includes roughly a dozen stops along the Antarctic Peninsula to see wildlife such as penguins, whales and seals among the continent’s fjords and icebergs. “We had a few donors and board members who dropped out which freed up some cabins that would otherwise go empty so we are taking a few extra of our people on the trip than we originally planned,” Kagan said before departing on the trip.

Donors are paying the cost to lease the Ocean Nova boat, which can carry 68 passengers and 35 crew. The zoo paid the airfare, spokeswoman Patricia Janeway said.

Rates on the Ocean Nova are $21,995 for a single occupancy cabin, $15,595 each for double occupancy and $13,595 for triple.

The staffers’ airfare will come from zoo coffers, which are partially funded by an annual millage levied on Metro Detroit taxpayers.

A 10-year, 0.1-mill tax for zoo operations was approved in 2008 by voters in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. It provides about 30 percent of the zoo’s $34 million operating budget with about 13 percent of the millage dollars coming from Oakland County, 11 percent from Wayne County and 6 percent from Macomb County.

Jeff Hauswirth, chairman of the Oakland County Zoo Authority, which oversees money collected from county residents through the millage, said there are no restrictions other than discretionary expenditures for operations and completing the zoo’s mission in how the millage money is used.
“The zoo has found these trips to be helpful in meeting operational expenses,” he said. “The penguin center being constructed — with the help of donors — will be the premier exhibit of its kind in the entire country.”

Kagan said the zoo sponsors “at least two or three trips a year,” including to the Amazon, working to improve villages and deliver supplies; to view polar bears in northern Canada; and to East and South Africa.

Janeway said more employees than expected were given the opportunity to go on the expedition after several donors and board members either chose not to go or were late cancellations. “We would have been sailing with some empty cabins,” she said.

The object of the trip is two-fold, Kagan said. Travelers get to experience the wonder and beauty of Antarctica first-hand, and zoo officials hope to raise money for exhibits. “Donor cultivation trips are pretty common at zoos,” he said. “This one might be a bit larger than some, but we felt there was sufficient interest to justify leasing a boat.”

Kagan said it’s still to be determined how much the zoo will raise as a result of the trip. “Last year we had $3 million in donations stemming from such a trip,” he said. “The year before, $10 million. We feel it is important to do this and have realized sizable donations from the trip.”


Rob Vernon, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said “educational trips for donors and others are not out of line, but are a common and very accepted, justifiable practice that many facilities use to get support for their programs and efforts.” The association has 230 members across North America.

Kagan said those on the trip will meet with researchers such as a veterinarian who has been doing research around the country on captive penguin health; the director of animal welfare, who is an expert on penguin welfare; a bird department supervisor with 30 years of experience working with penguins; and world-renowned polar ecologist and penguin expert Dr. Bill Fraser, who also serves as a design consultant on the Polk Penguin Conservation Center.

The Ocean Nova will also stop at the U.S. Palmer Research Station to pick up a bird department staff member who is living at the research station for three months. “We have filled this (trip) a couple times before but some people had to drop out this year,” said Lloyd Semple, retired dean of University of Detroit Mercy School of Law who became the zoo’s board chairman last June. Semple said he was not able to sail this year due to health issues, but he called it “a trip of a lifetime.”

Semple said the zoo is only going to get better as a result of trips like the Antarctica expedition. “We are in the process of building a $30 million penguin center and its going to be the most spectacular exhibit of its type anywhere and a major, major attraction for the zoo and the city,” Semple said.


British Antarctic Territory Features Emperor Penguin on Titanium and Silver Crown Coins

BAT 2016 penguin silver boxSMALL
The Treasury of the British Antarctic Territory has launched (February 1) their second 2016-dated crown. This latest design features the Emperor Penguin and has been issued in three versions: a unique collector’s issue made of blue titanium, a Proof sterling silver piece, and Uncirculated cupro nickel coin.

Indigenous and unique to the Antarctic continent and surrounding islands and coasts, the emperor penguin, or Aptenodytes Forsteri, are truly beautiful (though flightless) birds, and are the tallest and heaviest of all penguin species. On average, they measure 115 cm (about three feet) in height, which is the height of the average six-year-old human.

Emperor penguins are also the only bird to inhabit the open ice of Antarctica during the winter, trekking 30 to 75 miles or (50 to 120 kilometers) over the ice to breeding colonies. They spend their entire lives in Antarctica, where the temperatures can drop to as low as -60°C. These brilliant birds have special adaptations to survive in such low temperatures, with their large stores of insulating body fat and several layers of scale-like feathers that protect them from icy winds; they also huddle close together in large groups to keep themselves and each other warm.

The male and female are similar in plumage and size, with black dorsal sides and head, a white belly, pale yellow breast, and bright yellow ear patches. While the female lays a single egg each season, both mother and father take turns incubating the egg while the other returns to the sea to feed. The female carefully passes the egg to the male before journeying up to 50 miles (80 km) to the open ocean where she can feed. During this time, the males are in charge of keeping the egg safe and warm in the breeding ground. They do this by balancing the egg on their feet and covering it with feathered skin called a ‘brood pouch.’ It takes about two months for the eggs to hatch.
BAT 2016 penguin titanRevSmall
The coins are produced by the Pobjoy Mint UK on behalf of the Treasury of the British Antarctic Territory, whose reverse design features a group of emperor penguins swimming in Antarctic waters, with other penguins sliding into the ocean from an ice pack.


Yeah, it's SeaWorld, but hey, these are penguins (video)

South Georgia Island: A Wilderness Replenished

A determined effort brings seals, fish and penguins back to South Georgia Island, near Antarctica

A male elephant seal. Populations of whales, fish and birds have also made a comeback. Justin Hofman/Barcroft Media/Getty Images
The explorers began coming on Jan. 17, 1775, and they continued to come for the fur seals, elephant seals and whales. Here, a whale in Grytviken, South Georgia, during the 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir ...
The monument to Shackleton on South Georgia. He died of a heart attack and was buried on the island in 1922, having returned to the spot six years after his famous Antarctic expedition. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A group of king penguins on South Georgia. King penguins have rebounded: One colony has gone from 350 pairs in 1912 to 60,000 pairs today. David Schultz/Mint Images/ZUMA PRESS
 King penguins with their young and elephant seals on a beach. The elephant seals, once taken for their blubber, now snooze and belch in heaps on every beach. Andre Schumacher/laif/Redux
A male elephant seal. Populations of whales, fish and birds have also made a comeback. Justin Hofman/Barcroft Media/Getty Images
The explorers began coming on Jan. 17, 1775, and they continued to come for the fur seals, elephant seals and whales. Here, a whale in Grytviken, South Georgia, during the 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images
When you tell people that you’re going to South Georgia, some will ask if you’re changing planes in Atlanta. In fact, the name belongs to an island near Antarctica. It’s about the size of Rhode Island but with mountains rising to over 9,000 feet. It is a wilderness, uninhabited except for two small scientific stations and teeming with spectacular wildlife.

But don’t be fooled: The apparently pristine natural beauty of South Georgia is new. Like an old master painting that was badly damaged but has since been painstakingly restored, South Georgia was once utterly desecrated and is now gloriously refurbished.

The island was uninhabited when, on Jan. 17, 1775, HMS Resolution dropped anchor in what is now called Possession Bay, and Captain Cook claimed it on behalf of King George III. His men discharged their weapons “to the utter amazement of the seals and the penguins,” wrote the naturalist George Forster.

This Jan. 17, exactly 241 years later, as dusk was falling, the fishery protection vessel Pharos SG, carrying Princess Anne—a direct descendant of George III—entered Possession Bay flying the royal standard, and I had the good fortune to be on board. It was snowing gently, and the clouds hung low over the glaciers and black cliffs. Fur seals and penguins were once again the only audience.

A century ago, however, when the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his five companions landed here, after bringing a small boat through 800 miles of stormy seas following the sinking of their ship Endurance, there were no fur seals and few penguins to greet him. The reason Shackleton came to South Georgia for help was precisely because it wasn’t wilderness but was inhabited, indeed industrialized. He was heading for one of island’s four small towns, in which lived nearly 2,000 people, mostly Norwegians and Scots.

A southern elephant seal pup surrounded by penguins at Gold Harbour, South Georgia, Antarctic Peninsula Photo: Justin Hofman/Barcroft Media/Getty Images 
The people had come first for the fur seals (to make felt hats), but they soon took elephant seals for their blubber and penguin eggs for food. In the first half of the 20th century, it was the turn of the whales, which were all but wiped out in the surrounding ocean by 1960.

Yet today the island looks again much more like it was in Cook’s day than in Shackleton’s. The total human population is about 25 in summer (though some 8,000 tourists visit each summer on cruise ships and sleep on board). There are now some four million fur seals. They are everywhere, growling and moaning in crowds on the beaches, in the tussock grass and in the ruins of the towns. Elephant seals snooze and belch in heaps on every beach. King penguins abound: One colony has gone from 350 pairs in 1912 to 60,000 pairs today. Even the whales are back: Humpbacks and right whales were blowing regularly off the coast last month.

The plunder of South Georgia’s seas has also been halted. Fisheries regulation arrived with the declaration of a 200-mile limit around the island in 1993. In exchange for a hefty fee a handful of licensed vessels fish these waters for krill, ice fish and Patagonian toothfish (known on menus as Chilean sea bass). Each boat has a beacon transmitting an automatic identification system and carries an observer on board. No boat may fish in water shallower than 700 meters or in certain closed “boxes,” where the young toothfish live. Illegal fishing has almost entirely ceased.

In the 1990s, the long lines of baited hooks used to catch toothfish had begun catching albatrosses as well. Soon the populations of black-browed, gray-headed and wandering albatross were in free fall.

Today simple devices for preventing albatrosses getting hooked have completely solved that problem locally. The toothfish fishery has won coveted accreditation as sustainable from the Marine Stewardship Council. Far from boycotting “Chilean sea bass” in restaurants, as some marine preservationists advocate, you should go for it, so long as it comes with MSC certification.

Today, the fishermen have a new problem: Orcas and sperm whales have learned to steal their catch. Orcas bite the toothfish off the hooks as they are retrieved. Sperm whales find the lines on the sea floor and strip them of fish, apparently not bothered that this leaves hooks pierced into their own skin. Devices that transmit deafening sounds to deter the orcas proved counterproductive: The whales soon realized that the unpleasant sound was a dinner bell.

Most remarkable of all, the island is now free of rats. Between 2011 and 2015, the South Georgia Heritage Trust raised and spent more than $10 million to buy helicopters and spread poisoned bait over all the rat-infested parts of the island. This was a unique logistical achievement on a large mountainous island, accessible only by ship through the world’s stormiest seas. Even a few years ago, many people thought it was a mad plan. But it worked, and petrels and pipits can breed freely again here.

Like the rats, the reindeer that were introduced here a century ago to provide food for the whalers have also been exterminated. The last one was tracked down while I was on the island. This will allow the native vegetation to recover, and scientists are now hard at work spraying the invasive plants that humankind has introduced.

A spectacular ecological restoration has occurred, a wilderness replenished—on a scale probably unmatched anywhere else in the world. Last month, as I sat at the dining table of Pat Lurcock (one of three government officers for the whole island) at King Edward Point, eating potted krill and watching the light fade on the glaciers, I surveyed a wondrous scene: Stormy petrels flitted up the bay to feed their young, fur seals porpoised through the water, king penguins cooled their feet on the snow, and plump elephant seal pups snoozed on the steps of the laboratory.

Of course, challenges remain for South Georgia’s ecology. Rats or other pests may yet escape from ships that dock here (one rat jumped ship last year, but it was soon spotted and dispatched). So all cargo is minutely inspected and all visitors must wear clean, preferably new, clothing and thoroughly clean out their backpacks. Gentoo penguins have failed to breed at all this year, for lack of krill nearby. This may or may not be a symptom of climate change, which is responsible for the retreat of many of South Georgia’s glaciers since the time of Cook and Shackleton.

But after centuries of foolish plunder, pause to reflect what an astonishing transformation has been achieved by wise management. We can now see what Captain Cook saw: an ice-capped island looming over verdant bays teeming with wildlife. There is a lesson here for the whole planet: With prosperity and technology and determination, we can restore wilderness.

—The most recent of Mr. Ridley’s many books is “The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge.” He is a member of the British House of Lords.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Newport’s prognosticating penguin disagrees with Ohio rodent

Paula did not see shadow at Newport Aquarium 
Feb 02, 2016
NEWPORT, Ky. —Step aside Punxsutawney Phil and Buckeye Chuck; the Newport Aquarium claimed a penguin can also predict an early spring.

Paula the prognosticating penguin waddled outside of the Newport Aquarium Tuesday morning and did not see her shadow. She predicted an early spring for the Cincinnati area, agreeing with the famed groundhog in Punxsutawney.

However, Paula seems to be at odds with Ohio’s groundhog Buckeye Chuck. Chuck, the groundhog from Marion, is reported to have seen his shadow Tuesday morning.

According to legend, if a critter sees its shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another month-and-a-half. If he doesn't see it, spring will come early.


#Penguin of the Day


Argentina by Richard McManus

Magellanic Penguin

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Chester Zoo - Secret Life of the Zoo TV stars

Each year, the zoo has around 1.6m visitors and now they will get to explore and see these amazing animals close up in this new Channel 4 series.
The Secret Life of the Zoo will take viewers on a journey, capturing in intimate detail both the remarkable behaviour of the animals and their close relationships with their keepers, using a range of filming techniques.
From a giraffe baby dropping six feet through the air as it’s born, to tigers moving house and a pregnant viper being x-rayed, the series will present these spectacular rites of passage in the lives of rare animals as never before.

So who are the stars of the zoo?

Rudd and Spike the Penguins

Rudd and Spike the penguins
Rudd is an elderly South American humboldt penguin. Humboldt Penguins are social animals, living in relatively large colonies of closely spaced burrows.
Usually penguins enjoy an array of partners but many years ago Rudd settled down with fellow penguin Spike at Chester Zoo. The two have been a happy couple for several years. In his old age, Rudd receives medication each day with tablets delivered at feeding time.
Spike and Rudd are the oldest members of Chester Zoo’s Humboldt Penguin colony, which consists of about fifty penguins, part of a European Endangered Species Breeding Programme.
The colony has an excellent breeding record and many of the youngsters have gone on to join breeding groups in other zoos.
Chester Zoo’s penguin enclosure has an underwater viewing area where you can see our Humboldt Penguins ‘fly’ through the water at speeds of up to 25mph.