The Penguin Project: Understanding Penguin Conservation

Latest update June 13, 2019 Started on November 6, 2018
land
sea

The Magellanic Penguin Project at Punta Tombo, Argentina began in 1982 because a company intended to harvest Magellanic penguins and turn them into golf gloves, meat, and oil. The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Office of Tourism for the Province of Chubut, Argentina entered into a joint agreement to protect the penguin colony and study the diversity of wildlife at Punta Tombo. At the start of the project, Punta Tombo was the largest Magellanic penguin colony in the world, but the colony has decreased by ~40% since 1987. The project provides recommendations to the Province to enhance protection of the penguins, educates tourists on conservation, and helps improve the experience of the Provincial Reserve’s more than 100,000 annual visitors.


Our intended Open Explorer Expedition is to follow penguins in their marine habitat. Our historic research follows the Punta Tombo colony on land, but much of a penguin's life is spent at sea. And yet, nobody knows what these penguins do underwater. With an underwater drone we would be able to enter the world of these seabirds as they forage at sea.

November 6, 2018
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Debriefing

Check out this recently published paper on handedness by Dr. Stor, Dr. Rebstock, Dr. Borboroglu, & Dr. Boersma: https://peerj.com/articles/6936/

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In a paper published last year by Center scientists Eric Wagner and Dee Boersma, it was suggested that Magellanic penguin parents try to allocate food equally among offspring, a behavior that is unusual for parents in a food-limited system. Read more on that paper here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347218303671

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In The Field

We can learn a lot about penguins just through observation. Socialization in Magellanic penguins can often lead to flipper patting, bill dueling, and loud braying. In this video, we see all three!

Interesting Penguin Interactions

Socialization in Magellanic penguins can often lead to flipper patting, bill dueling, and loud braying. In this video, we see all three! - Check out our website! https://ecosystemsentinels.org/ - Subscribe to our updates! https://ecosystemsentinels.org/subscribe-to-our-updates/ - #puntatombo #magellanicpenguins #penguins #penguinsinthedesert #socialization #wildlife #wildbehavior #biology #biologymatters #ecology

Posted by The Center for Ecosystem Sentinels on Tuesday, March 19, 2019

As these Magellanic penguin chicks are being brooded by their parent, they open their mouths wide and peep to indicate to mom or dad that they are hungry and ready to eat!
If you look closely, you may notice the 'gunk' at the base of their bill. This is actually just dried fish leftover from their last feeding!

Penguin Chicks Begging For A Meal

As these Magellanic penguin chicks are being brooded by their parent, they open their mouths wide and peep to indicate to mom or dad that they are hungry and ready to eat! If you look closely, you may notice the 'gunk' at the base of their bill. This is actually just dried fish leftover from their last feeding! - Check out our website! https://ecosystemsentinels.org/ - Subscribe to our newsletter! https://ecosystemsentinels.org/subscribe-to-our-updates/

Posted by The Center for Ecosystem Sentinels on Thursday, March 14, 2019

Magellanic Penguins can sometimes be seen carrying grasses, twigs and other materials to their nests to improve nest quality. For this penguin, even a stumble won't interrupt the survival instinct!

Penguin Transports Nesting Material Despite Obstacles

Magellanic Penguins can sometimes be seen carrying grasses, twigs and other materials to their nests to improve nest quality. For this penguin, even a stumble won't interrupt the survival instinct!

Posted by The Center for Ecosystem Sentinels on Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Debriefing

Did you know that you can sponsor and name your own Very Important Penguin (VIP)? When you donate $5,000 or more to the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, you get to name a penguin and you support a device that tracks your penguin at sea. This year, we tracked an adult male Magellanic penguin's (Band #48389) foraging trip from October 25th to November 15th, 2018. While his mate stayed back to incubate their eggs, he swam for 25 days diving to capture and feed on anchovies, squid, and other small fish. When he made it back to land, he returned to his nest to take over the incubation task while his mate took to sea herself. Twelve days later, the pair's first chick hatched. With the support of your donations we are able to purchase field equipment, such as satellite tags, that helps us take detailed peeks into the lives of individuals in the colony. By attaching satellite tags to Magellanic penguins, we learned that they can travel up to 400 km to find food for themselves and their chicks. To read more about our VIP Program that funds our satellite tracking, visit this page.

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In The Field

Band #53907 is an adult male Magellanic penguin that we first found and banded as a chick in 2004, making him 15 years old.

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Debriefing

This Magellanic penguin is just as curious as we are about the data we collected this season!

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Magellanic Penguin Population Influenced by High Female Mortality
Congratulations to Drs. Natasha Gownaris and Dee Boersma on their January 2nd publication in Ecological Applications, one of the highest ranking journals in the field of ecology. Using data from nearly 45,000 banded Magellanic penguin chicks, Gownaris and Boersma showed that females are more likely than males to die during the non-breeding season. Female juveniles have survival rates averaging 33% lower than males. As a result of this uneven survival, there are now nearly three males for every female at Punta Tombo, resulting in a decrease in the number of breeding pairs. This paper adds to growing evidence that females are more sensitive to ocean conditions during the non-breeding season than are males and that there is a need for protection of the species’ migration habitat. In a paper published last year, Drs. Ginger Rebstock and Dee Boersma showed that unfavorable food conditions during the non-breeding season impacted the health of returning female penguins more than that of males.

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What a fantastic Patagonian project! Congratulations!! I love the pinguins conservation programs (I know to Pablo Borboroglu, he is a genius!)All the best! I am following this incredible project right now. If you are interesting in how the climate change are changing the Antarctic benthos communities... please join it us !!! (https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/newantarcticicefreeareas) Cristian
In The Field

Blanca: The White Chick
Occasionally we are lucky enough to spot a penguin that stands out from the crowd. These birds, with their fascinatingly odd plumage, are the result of an abnormal production of the pigment melanin. This year, we found Blanca—a stunning all white chick. We will be watching out for Blanca to see if she grows normal juvenile plumage or remains white. She's fat and healthy now, so we hope she will fledge in February and survive to return to Punta Tombo, Argentina.

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Expedition Background

The Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, housed at the University of Washington, uses information from the study of sentinel species to educate scientists, the public and policy makers. Just as canaries alerted coal miners to dangerous air quality, ecosystem sentinels serve as early warning systems of natural or human caused environmental change. Many of these sentinel species are also iconic, charismatic animals with a great ability to inspire individuals to take action. The Center is concerned with how alterations, whether natural or human, are impacting the health and well-being of these species and the ecosystems upon which we all depend.


Science and long-term studies are hallmarks of the Center. We have a 45-year database on Galápagos penguins and a 35+ year database on Magellanic penguins. Members of the Center are interested in natural history with a deep commitment to field biology. The Center fosters the well-being of ecosystem sentinels with long-term datasets, persuasive communication of conservation science to the public, mentorship of early-career scientists, and using science to inform the public and guide policy.

Conservation

To protect wildlife and preserve our environment, our work extends beyond research and publications. Through ongoing work with local and federal governments as well as conservation groups such as The Global Penguin Society (GPS), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Galápagos Conservancy, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), we continue to promote positive environmental change. After determining that tanker vessels were dumping oil and negatively impacting Magellanic penguins, we worked with many Argentines, including former students, and the government of Argentina, to move tanker lanes 40km further offshore, nearly eliminating observations of oiled birds on the beaches of Punta Tombo. In 2010, Dr. Boersma and Godfrey Merlen built nests out of lava rock in the Galápagos Islands to increase the reproductive success of Galápagos penguins. In 2014, after 30 years of study, we successfully linked climate change to reproductive failure in Magellanic penguins. Working with GPS and the Argentine and Ecuadorian governments, we promoted the creation and expansion of marine protected areas in Argentina and Ecuador. Dr. Boersma’s dedication and hard work led the Nature Conservancy to name her one of their “Conservation heroes of the last 50 years.”

Education

As a professor of Biology at the University of Washington, Dr. Boersma has educated future conservationists for over 40 years. In Boersma’s Science Communication course, students produce short, educational films using video footage recorded during field research. Many of the films are shared with the public on our YouTube channel. In 2012, we launched iGalápagos, a photograph-sharing citizen science program targeting the Galápagos penguins. Supported by the Galápagos National Park, the project enhances our understanding of the breeding cycle and age distribution of this endangered species and engages the local community to be involved in research and conservation. Following the success of iGalapagos, in 2017 we launched iArgentina–a similar citizen science program for Magellanic penguins.

Speaking locally as well as internationally, researchers with the project use media platforms to communicate the importance of research and conservation. Our graduate and undergraduate students visit local schools, zoos, aquariums, and public events to educate and inspire future conservationists. People that share our love of penguins and the natural world can help us get the message out that penguins enrich our lives and need our help.

Our Open Explorer Expedition

Our intended Open Explorer Expedition is to follow penguins in their marine habitat. Our historic research follows the Punta Tombo colony on land, but much of a penguin's life is spent at sea. And yet, nobody knows what these penguins do underwater. With an underwater drone we would be able to enter the world of these seabirds as they forage at sea.

Beyond the aspect of discovering the unknown world of a penguin underwater, this footage would have research applications related to our historical data. Footage could provide explanation for the differing foraging efficiency we find in male versus female penguins. It could also provide visual evidence for foraging efficiency disparities across aggression personalities of individual penguins.

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