It's #PenguinAwarenessDay and conservation scientists have found the perfect way to increase our awareness. They strapped a video camera to a Gentoo penguin and we are all rewarded with a penguin's-eye view of how to hunt sardines.
A team from the Argentinian CADIC-CONICET and the Tawaki Project are conducting a comparison between the gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) of Isla Martillo, Tierra del Fuego, and New Zealand's yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes). The Tawaki Project donated the PENGUCam camera, suited to placing on the back of a penguin, to their colleagues at the southern tip of the Americas, who put it on a male gentoo and were rewarded with this amazing footage.
The video reveals gentoos' adaptability to hunt. Their usual feeding spots are near the sea bed, where they hunt for crustaceans and small squid. However, clearly when they happen upon a school of bite-sized fish on the way they are capable of taking advantage, lunging and twisting with impressive speed and agility.
Prior to this video, researchers had suspected sardines made up a substantial part of the diet of seabirds in the Beagle Channel between Tierra del Fuego and a set of smaller islands. “Now it is confirmed and with a star behind the camera: the penguin,” said Andrea Raya Rey of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Argentina in a statement. “We attached the device just for one foraging trip, and upon the penguin’s return we unattached the device and monitored the breeding success of the nest. The Gentoo continued with its parental duties and taking care of the offspring.”
The WCS has helped fund the Tierra del Fuego penguin conservation program for more than 20 years. They have been rewarded with plenty of material for past penguin awareness days but as stars of the screen, rather than as their own camera operators.
In the spirit of Penguin Awareness Day, here are some facts to be aware of:
- The largest surviving penguins are emperor penguins, which grow to a little over a meter tall, but the family once to grew much bigger. In addition to the 1.4-meter-high penguin fossil discovered on a school excursion, many other giants have swum the southern seas at various times, including Kumimanu biceae, which was as tall, and somewhat heavier, than a human.
- Tawaki is the M?ori name for the yellow-eyed penguin. It is also, according to the project, the name of a god whose divinity was not recognized until he “Ascended a lofty holl, threw aside his vile garments and clothed himself in lightning.” Unlike the yellow-eyed, gentoos don't look like they have bolts of lightning over each eye, but the video shows that underwater they can certainly move like it.
- A gentoo was the star of another astonishing video featuring its attempts to escape being eaten by orcas.
- A penguin played a key part in the greatest Wikipedia photo caption of all time.