22 Feb 2012
After at least three spp. of fur seal, elephant seals were taken and then an industry using the King Penguins in a "steam digester." Some remnants of this industry can still be seen in parts of the island. Fortunately, there was too much blood in the mix for fermenting to be successful in this industry, so Royal Penguins were attacked instead. This penguin oil industry confuses the modern ideas we have of "blubber" but although less profitable than seals, penguin oil produced half a litre per penguin. After 1919, petroleum oil became commercially successful and the island reverted to a wild environment after 109 years of total exploitation.
Cousin of the huge Emperor, the King Penguin is a magnificent diver and has impressed us for much more than its oil. Even distant Edinburgh Zoo has them as their mascot. The dive record is 343 metres, which for a 90cm bird at 16kg maximum, is remarkable. They were actually exterminated on the Falklands and Heard Island, being circumpolar, but with a 9.7 % growth in worldwide population, they have even managed to re-colonise there. On Macquarie, the 1930 population of 3,400 animals has recovered now to 70,000, with new colonies now dotted around the east coast.( One colony is growing at a rate of 66% pa.)
Radiocarbon-dating showed up the >1000 BP date of the sub-fossils taken.
And the final news on Macquarie - the endemic Royal Penguins show every sign of a similar recovery to that of the Kings.