Global warming a concern at Chile's penguin paradise

2014-03-20 13:34

(Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Magdalena Island - Magdalena Island, located near Chile's southern tip, is a natural paradise for tens of thousands of penguins who come every year to breed.

But global warming could threaten the long-term survival of the species, say experts at the island nature reserve in the Strait of Magellan, about 50km from the city of Punta Arenas.

The island is home to 22 bird species, 11 which nest year-round and 11 seasonal visitors including the Magellanic penguin.

Some 23 000 tourists a year make the pilgrimage to Los Pinguinos Natural Monument, a protected area comprising tiny Marta Island and windswept Magdalena Island.

The penguins' main predators are aggressive seabirds called skuas and Dominican gulls, which feed off penguin eggs and young, says Roberto Fernandez, a ranger at the site for the past seven years.

And those predator populations are growing.

"Right now, what we are seeing is summer starting late, then lasting through into March. Climate change is bringing about a rise in gull numbers that is for sure", monument administrator Neftali Aroca told AFP.

"You would have to undertake a long-term study in order to link this increase with a reduction in the penguin population but the forecast is that in the future, the penguins could be at risk."

Epic swim

The worrying prognosis seems to confirm alarm bells sounded in January in a study published in the scientific journal Plos One, which indicated that extreme weather, such as unseasonal warmth and heavy rainfall, may have killed off a considerable number of young Magellanic penguins.

The study, conducted over a period of 27 years in Argentina's Punta Tombo peninsula, the largest breeding ground for the species, showed that 65% of the colony's young died annually on average, 40% of them from hunger and 7% owing to the effects of climate change.

Each year, the penguins flee the cold to spend winter in the warmer waters off Brazil. As soon as they are big enough to swim, they head off on a 4 000km odyssey from Magdalena Island to Brazil.

They spend the Southern Hemisphere winter on the coast of Brazil's southern Santa Catarina state, though they sometimes make it as far up as Rio de Janeiro's beaches.

Come mid-August, they begin to head back, via Uruguay and Argentina to the Strait of Magellan, the natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and Magdalena Island.

"Magellanic penguins come to the island to complete their reproductive cycle", explains Valeria Sanchez, who has spent five years as a tour guide here.

"They start arriving in September, as summer approaches, to enjoy the longer days necessary to incubate their eggs and look after their young."

The Magellanic penguins, who can live to 25, are monogamous, sharing their lives with just one partner.

First to arrive on Magdalena Island are the males, who must seek out the burrowed nests dug the previous season and make any necessary changes with whatever material they can find, including stones and feathers, before attracting their mate.

Around a fortnight later, the females arrive, and their keen partners sound a trumpet-like call to guide them to the nest.

The species tends to use the same burrow year after year to reproduce over a six-to-seven-month period.

Following fertilization, the females lay one or two eggs. For the first 12 days, she will incubate them and not leave them, even to eat.

Following their long fast, the mothers give way to the males in order to feed. The couples then switch at roughly fortnightly intervals until the end of the 40 to 45 day incubation period ahead of hatching in around November.

During the first months of their lives, the penguins' offspring are wholly dependent on their parents for food, learning to swim and how to fend off predators.

"Between February and March, they start to leave the island, but this year they began leaving two or three weeks earlier", Sanchez said.
Read more on:    chile  |  animals  |  climate change

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.