The search for answers to the interrogations of the world has allowed us to know more and apply this knowledge to solve other problems or needs. Animal research has a wide variety of purposes, from understanding the relationship among species to finding out the number of individuals left in the wild, just to name some.
Penguins are popular birds, although they are naturally found only in the southern hemisphere. Their particular looks and playful behavior are reasons that make people interested in them, but scientists have a wider range of interests. In general, penguin research looks for:
– Know their behavior.
– Learn about their anatomy, reproduction, feeding, physiology, etcetera.
– Recognize their threats.
– Estimate the number of individuals left in the wild and the status of the different populations and species.
– Identify their migratory patterns and the trips they make for food.
– Know their genetics and their relationships with other species.
– Implement programs of protection and conservation.
Obviously, there are more goals. Many of scientist focus only on one species or colony because of a particular reason. For example, the South African Foundation for Coastal Bird Conservation (SANCCOB) has a rehabilitation center for African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) in South Africa where they research is intended to increase the knowledge that could help to preserve this species.
Also, since 2010, the Georgia Aquarium, in collaboration with SANCCOB, has implemented a research program on diseases and environmental conditions that can cause problems in African penguin colonies; In this way, they expect to find better rescue and rehabilitation options for this species.
Many universities or other educational institutions also have fascinating research agendas. In 2014, the University of Minnesota released new information about the Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri). In resume, the study, led by Michelle LaRue, found that these birds show behaviors that allow them to adapt to their environment much better than previously believed, so they may not return to their original nesting sites as thought.
Other institutions have excellent programs for continuous research on penguins, such as the Seabird Research Program (SWFSC), which monitors the breeding and feeding of gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua), Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) and chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus). Their objective is detecting, reviewing and predicting changes in the availability of krill, its food, among other purposes. A database, maintained by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMRL), keeps all the information collected.
Some zoos also join studies or conduct their private research, with the help of experts in the field. Sometimes, their facilities are the best place to keep stranded or rescued penguins, and they inquire as much as possible for the reason why they got lost and their health condition, among other issues. Recognized zoos, such as the San Diego Zoo, have designated areas for penguin research.
One of the earliest researchers on penguins was Lancelot Richdale, a New Zealander bird scholar. He studied in detail the yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes), a relatively unknown species, and his book Sexual Behavior in Penguins (1951) got recognition and became a classic textbook to learn about these Seabirds.
How to study them?
For a long time, scientists have studied the behavior, biology, and evolution of penguins, and now they are known quite well. Obviously, there are still loose ends, unsolved questions, problems with no apparent resolution that require continuous research. To do this, scientists and researchers use many tools like:
They are useful for determining the genetics and immunity of penguins. With a blood test, scientists can check if they have any disease or they have weak defenses and even, their relationship with other individuals and species.
Satellites provide visual information of penguins. Their images show the landscape where they live, their migration patterns and some other activities.
Some penguins wore yellow garments in the early 1980s that scientists provided them to keep track of their lives. These vests had radiolocation devices, but they were very uncomfortable for penguins, so they stopped using them after a few years.
These objects, usually made of plastic or metal, are placed on the fins or legs of the penguins. They have printed a numerical code that helps to identify and monitor them from far with the aid of binoculars, without needing to approach them.
Garcia Borboroglu, Pablo. Penguins: Natural History and Conservation. University of Washington Press, 2015.
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