The Largest Penguin Rescue on Record – A Success for Animal Welfare – But a Terrible Omen

Some 2,500 Magellan penguins from the Argentina’s Patagonia region, probably confused by the warm ocean currents stranded – dead and alive – on Brazil’s northern coast in October last year. Approximately half of the penguins found on Brazilian beaches were dead, and the others were starving and in very bad shape,

Magellan penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) live in relatively warmer climates than other penguin species, and breed and nest in burrows from October to February, in southern Chile and Argentina, in a temperate and dry climate.
Magellans, one of 17 species of penguins living in the southern hemisphere, including Antarctica, are among the largest, weighing just over four kilograms, with striking colouring: a white chest and a white band around a black back and black head.

They travel out to sea during the winter, from March to September, to follow anchovies, their favourite food, in order to fatten up. However this year apparently the anchovies went deeper into the ocean in search for cold water and the penguins couldn’t reach their food and consequently stranded because they were starving, according to Valeria Ruoppolo, an emergency veterinarian with the International Federation for Animal Welfare (IFAW), in São Paulo.

This year, about 2,500 disoriented juvenile penguins travelled more than 2,500 kilometres beyond the normal point, coming ashore in Salvador, in the Brazilian state of Bahia, to the amazement of beachgoers. The penguins were rescued by IFAW and the Centre for Marine Animal Recovery, with help from other organisations and Brazilian environmental authorities.

After months of care and feeding, the 372 surviving penguins were banded and loaded onto a C-130 Hercules military plane and transported to Cassino Beach, in Pelotas, in southern Brazil.

After a night’s rest, they were released into the South Atlantic Ocean, along with a few rescued adult penguins, with the hope that the adults would guide the younger ones safely home to Punta Tombo in Patagonia.

The Magellan penguin population is fragile, as their numbers have plummeted by about 20 percent, with about one million breeding pairs today, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The penguins are at risk due to the effects of climate change, tourism, oil leaks from tankers and shrimp nets. Particularly the ocean environment of the southern tip of Patagonia is changing, as the salinity of the water is decreasing, due to glaciers melting.

Punta Tombo is a tiny peninsula near the city of Rawson on the coast of the southern Argentine province of Chubut,. Its widest point is less than one kilometre, and it is teaming and crowded with penguins – and tourists – during breeding season. Punta Tombo, is home to the largest colony of Magellan penguins.
In 1982, the Punta Tombo colony was saved from Japanese commercial interests, intending to slaughter the birds and use their pelts to make golf gloves. The area was turned into a penguin preserve and research centre.

This an extract of an article published by IPS-Inter Press Service

Photo’s by: tabernash, benune, TrekNature