As humans, who are we to criticize other creatures' feeding habits? I mean, we invented the cronut. Some animals, however, can’t afford to be picky, so it was with some surprise that new research suggests Adélie penguins actually have a particular taste for jellyfish with rather prominent gonads. Each to their own, we guess.
Last year, researchers from the French and Japanese national Antarctic programs, backed by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), studied Adélie penguins in their native habitat using tiny “penguin cams” to see what they got up to under the ice.
The footage was released last December and garnered lots of attention as people’s curiosity got the better of them.
However, the researchers were studying the footage closely too, in order to try and discover essential information about the behavior of these penguins that might help us better understand and protect them. A year later, they have released some of the results.
The fact that penguins like to feed on krill is well-documented, however the footage showed that even if krill was available to snack on, the penguins instead made a beeline for jellyfish with large gonads when they were in the vicinity.
"We were surprised to see the penguins go for jellyfish,“ Jean-Baptiste Thiebot of Japan's National Institute of Polar Science said. “It raised the question: is this new behavior for Adélie penguins, possibly developed because they had a hard time finding food during this year of very unusual sea-ice conditions? Or is it simply newly revealed by using this video approach to study their diet?"
The researchers suspect that the reason penguins go for the particularly eye-catching gonads is because they offer up a higher nutritious protein content than the rest of the jellyfish.
The wildlife information gathered by the researchers and their penguin cams is being used by the WWF to help in the creation of marine protected areas around the Antarctic. Species like Adélie penguins are already being affected by overfishing and climate change, so understanding more about their feeding habits will go a long way towards understanding the threats posed to them and how to manage them in the future.
“A year on from the release of the penguin cam footage, it’s clear that we still have a lot to learn about Adélie penguins and other ice species," Rod Downie, WWF Polar Programme Manager, said. "The results give us a better understanding of how they might respond to climate change and related shifts in the Antarctic food web."