Distance from food imperils penguins

One of the largest penguin colonies in the world -- that of Magellanic penguins on the coast of Argentina -- is under threat because the birds are having to swim further to find food, Reuters reported. The extra distance during the breeding season reduces their chances of having young that survive, said Dee Boersma of the University of Washington.


Satellite tagging of the penguins in the Punta Tombo colony shows that they are feeding some 25 miles (40 kilometres) further from their nesting sites than they did 10 years ago, Boersma said. “That distance might not sound like much,” she noted, “but they also have to swim another 25 miles back, and they are swimming that extra 50 miles while their mates are back at the breeding grounds, sitting on a nest and starving.”


The penguin colony has declined by one-fifth in the past 22 years, and now numbers 200,000 breeding pairs. Of the 17 species of penguins, 12 are experiencing rapid population declines.


While the penguins are incubating an egg, Boersma said, they can swim 270 miles (435 kilometres) looking for food and be at sea for two to three weeks.


Their changing behaviour appears to be driven by environmental factors, including overfishing, which is reducing local stocks of anchovies. “If we continue to fish down the food chain and take smaller and smaller fish like anchovies,” she said, “there won’t be anything left for penguins.”


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