Monday, July 27, 2009

ICE ICE BABY our Adopted Penguin

Today we are reprinting the letter from Michael Bingham, the correspondant for Ice Ice Baby, our Magellanic penguin. AND we have photos! Ice Ice Baby is sitting on two eggs today, and we'll keep you updated on the progress of our flock. (Hey, are a bunch of penguins a flock?)

Dear Icebar Orlando

Thank you for supporting our penguin adoption programme with the adoption of Ice Ice Baby.

Your adopted penguin is a Magellanic penguin of about 5 years old.

Magellanic penguins are only found around southern South America in Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Each year we monitor population changes at selected breeding sites throughout their breeding range, and money raised through our penguin adoption programme pays for this work.

See to see where we work. Click on each link for more information on each of our study sites.

At the beginning of each breeding season we visit our selected study sites and examine each and every nest to see how many breeding pairs are in the colony. This allows us to record any population changes, since Magellanic penguins return to the same colony to breed each year. This work has revealed a 90% population decline over the last 20 years in the Falkland Islands, whilst populations in nearby Chile and Argentina have increased.

As well as population counts, we also monitor all our adopted penguins throughout the season, in order to see how many eggs hatch, and how many chicks survive. By monitoring penguins over a number of years we are able to spot differences in breeding success, and find the causes of population decline.

These studies have shown that in the Falkland Islands, breeding success is much lower than in nearby Chile and Argentina, due to chick starvation in the Falklands. Chick survival in the Falklands is less than one third of that of Chile and Argentina because commercial fishing around the Falklands makes it hard for penguins to find food for their chicks.

In Chile and Argentina, where commercial fishing is banned close to penguin colonies, chicks are fed every 12 to 14 hours. In the Falklands, where there is no such protection from commercial fishing, chicks are fed every 34 hours. The lower abundance of food resulting from commercial fishing means that adult penguins must spend over twice as long finding food to feed their chicks in the Falklands. As a result, chicks in the Falklands receive less than half the amount of food, so few chicks survive, leading to population decline.

In September 2000, members of the International Penguin Conservation Work Group passed a resolution calling for no-fishing zones around penguin breeding sites in the Falkland Islands, as has been done in Chile and Argentina. Unfortunately the Falkland Islands Government have refused to honour this, despite the decline in penguin numbers.

Another potential threat to penguins is tourism, however our studies into the effects of tourism show no differences in breeding success for sites visited by tourists and those which are not. This is good news for anyone wishing to visit their penguin. They can be confident that their visit will not cause disturbance, and that we are monitoring the affects of tourism on penguins.

Our adoption programme runs for one year, although of course it can be renewed each year to follow the same penguin. Magellanic penguins arrive at the breeding sites in September, which is when we begin our monitoring work.

Eggs are laid during October, and chicks hatch during December. Chicks leave in February, but adults that have reared young remain around the breeding site until April.

Between April and September, Magellanic penguins remain entirely at sea, migrating northwards up the coast of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, where the austral winter offers longer hours of daylight and warmer waters.

Throughout the breeding season you will be kept updated as to how your penguin is doing - when the eggs are laid, when they hatch, and how the chicks fare. We will also send you a photo of any chicks.

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