Monday, September 14, 2015

Absence makes the heart grow fonder ... especially if you're a penguin

Rockhopper penguins.
Rockhopper penguins.

Absence may not always make the heart grow fonder for humans, but apparently it does for some penguin species.

Researchers looking at the mating habits of southern rockhopper penguins have found pairs travel hundreds of kilometres apart when not mating. But despite staying apart for much of the year, the pairs returned to each other to make babies, the researchers found.

The penguins are found mostly around the southern tip of South America but are close relatives to the eastern rockhopper penguin, which is found in the Sub Antarctic Islands.

Scientists attached sensors to 10 couples - 20 penguins in all. They found the pairs spent about six months apart at a time, before returning to mate in the Falklands.

One committed penguin pair travelled nearly 2,500km from each other before rekindling their romance.

University of Otago Associate professor Yolanda van Heezik - who was not part of the study - said the study helped shed light on where penguins went and what they did when not breeding and whether they remained together after being apart.

"What's new about this study is that it is the first that investigates whether mates hang out together when they are not involved in raising young," she said.

"In general, breeding performance in penguins is positively related to pair bond duration, so birds that have been together for a few seasons are more likely to raise healthy chicks."

The scientists who conducted the study also noted other remarkably human-like behaviour from the penguins. Mates would build nests together, and even raise children like a human couple.

"Divorces" also happened among the penguins, but were generally rare.

Van Heezik said similar studies are yet to be done on NZ-native yellow-eyed penguins or blue penguins, but suggested they might be less prone to wandering than rockhoppers.

"Regarding our own species of penguins, nobody has tracked yellow-eyed penguins outside the breeding season. They don't disappear completely as do rockhoppers, but just become less predictable in when they come ashore. So they are probably still foraging over the continental shelf within about 35km of the shore."

A type of crested penguins, southern rockhopper penguins have been seen in movies including "Happy Feet" and "Surf's Up."


No comments: