The Top 5 Threats to Penguins – And What You Can Do to Help

 

hey say to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If penguins’ black and white getup is anything to go by, these birds would rather be butlers. And who’s to blame them? From invasive predators to toxic plastics, penguins around the world face a litany of serious threats. This Friday is Penguin Awareness Day, which means there’s no better time to learn about the biggest dangers to penguins — and how you can help the ocean’s best-dressed birds thrive for years to come.

1. Overfishing 

Jackass penguins rest on the beach near Cape Town, South Africa. African penguins have been hard-hit by overfishing of their preferred prey species. Credit: Sergey Uryadnikov / Shutterstock

Jackass penguins — named for their donkey-like braying — are the only species of penguin to call Africa home. In the 1950s, Namibia’s jackass penguins mostly ate fatty, nutritious sardines. But in the 1970s, overfishing triggered a collapse of sardine stocks. Namibian penguin colonies were forced to switch to bearded gobies as their main source of prey. Though these gobies are abundant, they’re low in fat and nutrients — making them the penguin equivalent of junk food. A 2010 report blamed this crummy diet for the decline in the country’s penguin populations. In South Africa, similar collapses of small bait fish also caused jackass penguins to drop precipitously. And there are fears that in Antarctica, the fledgling krill fishery has the potential to decimate Adelie, chinstrap, gentoo and macaroni penguins if not tightly controlled.

2. Plastic pollution 

A fairy penguin killed by plastic trash on Troubridge Island, Australia. Credit: Jane McKenzie / Environment Protection Authority South Australia

By 2050, nearly every species of seabird will be accidentally eating plastic debris — and that includes penguins. This is the conclusion from a 2015 study that warned that, at current rates of plastic production and pollution, 99.8 percent of the 186 species included in the report would be chowing down on plastic trash by mid-century. Eating plastic causes major problems for penguins  and other marine animals. If a bird swallows enough plastic, for example, the indigestible scraps can build up in its gut and prevent it from digesting real food. Plastic is also efficient at absorbing industrial toxins from ocean water. These pollutants have been linked to a slew of health problems from neurological and reproductive disorders to cancer and birth defects.

3. Industrial development

Proposed industrial developments threaten the world’s largest colony of Humboldt penguins. Credit: Natural Earth Imagery / Shutterstock

In Chile, a cluster of islands off Punta de Choros is home to approximately 80 percent of the world’s Humboldt penguins. But this vital nesting site is being threatened by two new open-pit mines, a desalinization plant and a commercial port. Increasing ship traffic and coastal development will expose the region’s marine life to pollution, oil spills, disruptive noise and habitat loss. Now, Oceana Chile is partnering with local communities, other NGOs and concerned Chilean citizens to oppose the new development and protect this vital stronghold for Humboldt penguins.

4. Invasive predators

Fairy penguins are the smallest species of penguin — making them perfect fodder for invasive foxes. Credit: EA Given / Shutterstock

On Australia’s Middle Island, fairy penguin numbers plummeted after red foxes were introduced on the mainland to control rabbit populations. But foxes quickly learned they could cross to the island at low tide and feast on adult penguins and their chicks. In 1999, there were over 500 resident penguins. By 2006, that number plummeted to fewer than 10. Luckily, a local man had the smart idea of raising Maremma livestock guardian dogs among these blue-hued birds. The puppies imprinted on the penguins and defended them from foxes. Since then, there’s been no evidence that foxes have killed a single one of these fish-loving fairies.

Penguins elsewhere are not so lucky. On the Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin, resident penguins face an onslaught of invaders they did not evolve to withstand. Introduced black rats and house mice feast on penguin eggs. Nonnative plants destroy nesting habitat. And in 2007, a single house cat at Isabela Island’s Caleta Iguana increased the average yearly risk of death for an adult penguin by 49 percent — proving that Little Fluffy can be a voracious killer of wildlife if not kept indoors.

5. Climate change

Climate change is increasing the intensity of storms and decreasing penguins’ food supply, which makes life particularly tough for penguin chicks. Credit: 2j architecture / Shutterstock

In Punta Tombo, Argentina, storms are becoming more intense and frequent, and that’s bad news for Magellanic penguin chicks. A 2014 study that tracked almost 3,500 chicks from 1983 to 2010 found that rainstorms and extreme temperatures were major causes of death for young penguins. Rain is particularly harmful to chicks as their fluffy down is only insulating when it’s dry. Over the 27-year-long study, penguin numbers dropped by 20 percent while the number of storms during each nesting season rose. This makes climate change one of the potential culprits behind Punta Tombo’s missing Magellans.

Climate change doesn’t just hurt penguin chicks directly. It can also slash the amount of food that their parents can find and bring back to the nest. Rockhopper penguins, which breed on islands and coastlines north of the Antarctic Circle, have seen some giant population drops in recent years. On Marion Island, 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) south of Cape Town, rockhopper penguin numbers plummeted by 52 percent from 1987 to 2013. One 2008 study attributed this decline to the underfed conditions of adults — which in turn was bad news for hungry chicks entirely dependent on their parents for food. Warmer water, shifting winds and a host of other climate change induced factors may be to blame for the starving birds.

How you can help

It can be hard to directly help a penguin in trouble — after all, most of the world’s human population lives in the northern hemisphere, and all penguins species live south of the equator. But there are plenty of ways you can support healthy, vibrant oceans.

 

Source credit: https://oceana.org/

 

Following a report that killer whales were sighted at Miller’s Point earlier in the morning, we couldn’t resist heading out in search of them, albeit 2 hours later. The area where they were spotted is one of their favourite “7 gill bistros”, but we also know from previous experience that they generally head south from there, stopping off at a few other potential prey areas before they leave the bay.

KILLER WHALES OFF THE SOUTH AFRICAN COAST

I saw my first group of killer whales near Bird Island in Algoa Bay on the 20th February 1999. It was a group of four (three adults and a calf) spotted near a Bryde’s whale. They had captured a baby bottlenose dolphin and were “flicking” it to each other using their large flippers. The cries of the baby dolphin were quite unnerving but are one of the cruel things in nature that are necessary for a top predator’s survival. In this case the whales were honing their skills just like when a cat plays with a mouse. Since then I have spotted them on numerous occasions from my whale watching boat and from the shore, but never armed with a good camera and being treated to such a show as on January the 13th.

The photo gallery above depicts various forms of behaviour. There is some of the male killer whale “spy hopping”. They can change the shape of the lens in the eye which gives them excellent vision both in and out of the water. This is used to great effect when knocking seals off ice floes. They would suddenly pop out the water next to the boat and have a good look at who we were and what we were doing. Then there is one of the male “tail slapping” which may be a form of aggression to warn intruders to keep away from its calf, but scientists don’t know for sure what it means. They also seem to use their flukes to soften up their prey for consumption. There are photos of the female breaching which could be some form of communications to the other members of the pod, or may be simply for fun.

There are photos of two kinds of barnacles, one on the male’s dorsal fin and others on the male and female’s flukes and flippers. According to Professor Peter Best, the round white one on the adult male fin is a Coronula sp. (whale barnacle), typical of humpback whales amongst others. It is partially embedded in the skin which means that it won’t easily be dislodged by predators, or the breaching of the whale, and it feeds by passively filtering food from the current generated as the whale swims. The floppy black ones on or near the trailing edge are probably Xenobalanus sp., found on a large number of cetaceans. Both pose no problem for the whale, but if they are noted as being excessive in number it may be indicative of an animal swimming somewhat slower than normal (i.e. possibly debilitated). Barnacles on fins and tails are far more common in warmer waters than they are in colder waters. So, we generally assume that animals we see here with barnacles, Xenobalanus in particular, have probably come down from warmer waters, maybe Natal, or even from the Agulhas current, but either way, the barnacles don’t tend to last too long in colder Southern Ocean waters. Have a look at the photo showing the shape of the whales’ dorsal fins and the grey saddle just behind the dorsal fin. Scientists use the notches and unique markings on the fins and saddles to identify individual animals.

Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family. When any cetacean (group name for whales, dolphins and porpoises) attains more than four metres it becomes known as a whale (with the exception of the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales). Like many cetaceans these animals are known by two names. The name Orca is derived from Orcus, the Roman god of the underworld who tortured wrongdoers in the afterlife. The term killer whale probably comes from the fact that they do kill whales and were often seen feeding on dead whales during the days of whaling.

These whales are the top predators in the marine ecosystem. Their diet consists of almost everything in the sea as well as some animals out of it. Animals eaten or harassed include twenty species of cetaceans, fourteen species of seals and their kin, dugongs, sea otters, eleven species of bony fish, twelve species of elasmobranch fish (sharks and rays), birds, turtles, squid and even deer and moose! There are several different types of killer whales across the globe, one of the main differences between them being in their diet. Some eat mostly dolphins or seals or large whales, others eat only bony fish or sharks and rays, while others still eat a combination of two or more of these prey items.

The more specialised you become at hunting one kind of prey only, the more successful you will be as a predator. While fish-eating killer whales hunt in bigger pods and may, like dolphins, use echo-location to find their prey, it is very unlikely in the case of mammal-eating killer whales, which hunt in very small pods. They normally hunt silently and probably detect prey by listening for the sounds they are making or using visual cues. Females can live to a maximum of 90 years while males seldom reach more than 60 years of age.

Killer whales are no doubt the world’s most widely distributed mammal, stretching from the Arctic to the Antarctic, in the tropics and from both coastal and oceanic waters. They do appear to be more abundant in cooler waters. Killer whales can be seen anywhere along the southern African coast. However they tend to be seen more frequently in places of heavy boat traffic like the Cape Peninsula, Plettenberg Bay, Algoa Bay and on the old whaling grounds. This does not mean they do not occur at other locations but just that there are not usually people there to observe them.

In and around Algoa Bay their appearances are unpredictable and normally not more than twice a year, some years failing to arrive at all. We have observed them in any month of the year between Bird Island and Jeffrey’s Bay. An amusing sighting was in 1984 during the local University of Port Elizabeth’s “anything that floats” fundraiser. Students aboard their flimsy rafts were head for the finish line when a group of Orcas arrived making the students gap it off their floating crafts!

Dr Vic Cockcroft who has been studying killer whales since then has only managed to identify seven or so males, which strongly suggests that there are not that many families out there. The last time they were spotted in the Eastern Cape was in May 2011 at the tail end of the “sardine run” off Cape Recife. This was when Raggy Charters hosted the filming of the BBC’s “Earth Flight” about the migration of birds around the world which is to be screened later this year. Watch out for spectacular 3D footage of the sardine run from along our coast.

There have been 785 recorded sightings of killer whales along the South African coastline which seems a lot, but 627 of these observations were from surface long line vessels on the continental drop off on the Agulhas Bank. The other 158 were from sightings by scientists, boat-based whale watching operators, fishermen, skippers and their ilk. Strandings and animals taken by the whale industry make up the balance. As a result of the unpredictability of killer whale sightings along our shore, data are only collected on an ad hoc basis, if and when researchers encounter them at sea or, as is more often the case, via members of the public, fishermen and tourist operators who are often armed with good quality camera equipment, GPS’ etc. Meredith Thornton from the Marine Mammal Institute is currently collating all killer whale photographs and associated sighting information from all interested parties in order to build a photographic catalogue for South Africa.

There are at least nine main types of killer whales in the world, two in the North Atlantic, three in the North Pacific and four in the Southern Hemisphere and the list is growing! There are the so-called resident pods which feed mainly on fish and occur in a wide range of group sizes ranging from three to about 60 animals. Then there are the mammal-eating ones that are called transients. They occur in much smaller groups of between one and four animals although occasionally up to fifteen. These are the ones that I have been seeing along our coastline over the last twenty years. They seem to use a hunting method called passive sonar where they listen out for sounds made by other cetaceans and then use ambush tactics, communicating with each other once a kill has been made. This seemed to be the case on 27th January 2003 when we observed two adult female killer whales and a calf creeping up on 400 bottlenose dolphins cowering away in a sheltered bay at St Croix Island in Algoa Bay.

In the Southern Ocean, recent observations have revealed the possible existence of four types of killer whales. In all types the dorsal fin continues to grow in both sexes but with a delphinid shape, in females and juvenile males. In adult males the fin not only gets bigger but becomes more triangular in shape and can attain 1.8 metres in height. In males up to six metres the dorsal fin is about 10% of the body length while in males over 6 metres it is on average 18% of the body length. On the killer whale we observed the fin actually wobbled when the animal surfaced, and because it is not supported by bone or cartilage it can curl over to one side as often observed on captive animals. Males also have larger flippers and tail flukes than females as can be seen in the attached photos. Killer whales can often be confused with humpback whales as the underside of their tail flukes is sometimes also black and white like those of killer whales. Also, when a southern right whale lies on its side its tail often resembles the dorsal fin of a killer whale.

Type A is the killer whale that mainly frequents our shores. There is increasing evidence of a second type A, which is smaller and so far unnamed, which has also been observed here. The largest males are almost nine metres long while the females reach almost eight metres. Most females seldom reach seven metres while 50% of males do. Males can weigh up to five and a half tones while females are smaller. They have a moderately sized white eye-patch. Around the Antarctic they prey mainly on minke whales. In our waters they prey predominantly on dolphins (I have observed them eating both common and bottlenose). Although they do prey on Cape fur seals they do so surprisingly infrequently considering that we have over two million of them in South Africa and Namibia. They also take penguins, cormorants and white-chinned petrels. There have been many reports of killer whales taking hooked tuna off commercial long lines on the Agulhas bank to such an extent that fishermen leave the area. Retaliatory actions by frustrated fishermen include shooting or the throwing of “thunder flashes”. There have also been reported attacks on southern right, humpback and fin whales. When attacking southern rights the killer whales try to split up the group or cow and calf pair while the whales try to group as close as possible together. Once the animals are killed the killer whales usually only eat the tongues which seems like a delicacy to them. In Plettenberg Bay in 2002 a male killer whale from a group of three killed a four metre great white shark. The male and female then came and displayed it to the boat based whale watching boat!

The group size of Killer Whales from the 627 sightings by long line vessels showed that all except one was of up to 13 animals. The exception was a group of twenty. In 93% of the observations the group size was up to six animals, the average being two. Other datasets shows 81% of the groups being up to six animals, the rest up to ten with an average of four and a half. Boat based whale watching operators reported between one and two calves present in ten of the 15 sightings. I have seen calves in all of my sightings although they are sometimes difficult to distinguish at first.

Type B inhabits inshore waters around the Antarctic and is closely associated with continental pack ice. The eye patch is twice as large as type A and it has a grey cape on the body behind the dorsal fin. They prey mainly on seals but also on minke and humpback whales.

Type C also inhabits inshore pack ice in the Antarctic. The eye patch is diagonal and slopes down at the front. They are smaller than type A, the males attaining six metres and the females slightly less. They feed mainly on fish.

The Antarctic population was estimated at about 80 000 individuals in the 1980s. They have not been heavily exploited by whalers in the past. From 1935 until 1979 on average 26 were killed every year. During 1979-80 Soviet whaling ships killed 916 animals in the Southern Hemisphere. South Africa is not blameless however as between 1971 and 1975, 36 killer whales were taken at the Durban whale station.

Credit Source: Simon’s Town Boat Company

Credit Source: www.raggychartes.co.za

 

Book your accommodation now for the annual Penguin Festival in Simon’s Town on Saturday, 10 November, to celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day!

Get 10% discount on Bed & Breakfast: give reference – “Penguin Festival” to claim.

From kids and foodies to birders and conservationists, there’s something for everyone.

General admission is FREE and entry into the Kids’ Zone is R50.

This special day is dedicated to raising worldwide awareness about the plight of the endangered African penguin, the only penguin endemic to the African continent. All proceeds go to SANCCOB’s year-round African penguin conservation work.

More information: www.sanccob.co.za

More about the African Penguin:

African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus

African penguinWhen you think of penguins, you may picture them surrounded by snow and ice. However, there is one species of penguins that is acclimated to warmer climates. African penguins live in colonies on the coast and islands of southern Africa.

Also called jackass penguins, they make donkey-like braying sounds to communicate. They can dive under water for up to 2.5 minutes while trying to catch small fish such as anchovies and sardines. They may also eat squid and crustaceans.

The African penguin averages about 60 cm (2 ft.) tall and weighs up to 3.6 kg (8 lb.). Their short tails and flipper-like wings that help them navigate in the water, while their webbed feet help propel them.

To keep dry and insulated in cold water, African penguins are covered in dense, water-proof feathers. These feathers are white on the belly and black on the back, which aids in camouflage. Their white belly will blend with the light when predators look up at them from below, and their black backs meld with the darker seas when predators look down on them from above.

African penguins breed within their colonies; they do not travel to give birth. The penguins nest in burrows they dig out of their own excrement, called guano, or in areas under boulders or bushes. Recent removal of the guano for fertilizer has forced the penguins to change their habits and nest primarily under bushes and boulders. Their nests protect eggs and chicks from the sun and from predators like cats and seagulls. Eggs are laid in pairs and both parents help incubate them. Both parents also feed the newly-born chicks. After 2-4 years, the chicks will mature and lay their own eggs.

African penguins

Conservation Status

African penguins can live for an average of 10-15 years, however many do not reach their full life span, and populations have been steadily decreasing. The loss of nesting places due to guano removal has contributed to the population decline as well as a decrease of food due to overfishing and pollution. As such, African penguins are now considered endangered by IUCN’s Red List. This means there is a high risk they may become extinct.

What You Can Do to Help

If you would like to help the African penguin, you can volunteer, donate, or adopt a penguin through the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.

African Penguin Distribution

African penguin distribution map

African penguins live in colonies on the coast and islands of southern Africa.

Source credit: animalfactguide.com

One of South Africa’s oldest towns and Naval base, Simon’s Town (sometimes misspelt as Simons Town or Simonstown) is a picturesque and historical town where many happy memories are waiting to be made just 35km outside Cape Town. From the Toy and Navy museums to the eateries and shops, here’s how you should plan your day in Simon’s Town.

Start the day with a walk and a bite to eat, to prepare for the day ahead.

Do the audio tour
Start the day with an audio tour to get a sense of the lay of the land. The tour starts atthe station, takes in the “historic mile”, and ends in the village centre where all activities are based. The tour is narrated by the local author Maureen Miller. At under R30 ($2), this trip is super affordable.

Download the VoiceMap app and the Simon’s Town Tour

Coffee, pastries and something sweet
The audio tour ends within ambling distance of two of our favourite places to grab a bite. The Sweetest Thing offers an exceptional array of mouth-watering cakes, pastries, pies and sweet treats that are proudly local. Stop by Monocle & Mermaid for a hot cup of coffee, pastries or wrap and browse their local art and music on sale while soaking up their charming décor.

Penguin watching
Visiting the African Penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach is high on everyone’s must-see list and you simply can’t leave without saying hello to our monochromatic friends. Boulders is a part of the South African National Parks and all along the penguin viewing path you’ll be able to see penguins in their natural habitat. At Foxy Beach you can also have a swim with the penguins!

Credit: capetown.travel

 

3 Okt 2017
Celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day at our 15th annual Penguin Festival in collaboration with SANParks (Table Mountain National Park).

Certain to appeal to everyone from kids and foodies to birders and conservationists, the event kicks off at 10h00 on Seaforth Beach with a release of rehabilitated African penguins. Witnessing the release of penguins back to the wild is a heart-warming and exclusive opportunity for festival guests.

What’s even more rewarding is knowing that it is your support that makes our vital African penguin conservation work possible.
After the penguin release, the festival continues at the Simon’s Town Navy Sports Fields, next to Seaforth Beach, with:
•live music
•kids’ activities (mini rides, inflatable obstacle course, face-painting, jumping castle, climbing wall)
•an edutainment marquee
•marine conservation exhibitions
•environmental talks
•delicious food
•craft beer & wine tasting

All proceeds go to SANCCOB’s African penguin conservation work. General admission is free, and entry into the Kids’ Zone is R50 per person. Please park at the Seaforth Beach parking area.

For more information, contact us on 021 557 6155 or our co-hosts, SANParks, on 021 786 2329.

12