African Penguins Provide Clues For Flying Seabirds 

Posted on September 21st 2019

penguin 5

A new study that taped cameras to the back of penguins has shown that flying seabirds know that they should follow their sea-bound cousins to feast on the fish that penguins locate in the ocean. African penguins, which are the only species of penguin native to that continent and reside on the coasts of southern Africa feed mainly on small fish such as anchovies and sardines.

Deep divers

African penguins are known to regularly dive as deep as 100 feet and work collectively to corral schools of fish and guide them towards shallow waters where they can feed on them easily. Fisherman and scientists have long been aware that seagulls and other flying sea birds often gravitate towards African penguins that are surfacing. In order to learn more about the link that has been observed between swimming and flying seabirds researchers attached cameras to the backs of the penguins.

Cameras mounted on their backs

African penguins that roam South Africa’s Stony Point during the summer had cameras placed on their backs between 105 and 2018, during their breeding season. Each member of a mated pair would swap between hunting for food out in the ocean and guarding their offspring on land. The researchers would secure the cameras to the penguins whilst they were nesting using sticky but easily removable waterproof tape and then remove the cameras following the penguin’s return from hunting.

Flying birds take an active interest

The larger the penguin group, the quicker the flying seabirds would arrive in order to take advantage of the fish the penguins managed to herd towards the surface. The researchers say this definitely indicates that flying seabirds take an active interest in penguins as a cue for prey. There have been very similar relationships observed between dolphins and gannets which are a species of seabird that dives into the water.

An invaluable service

The researchers believe that African penguins may be more significant for other seabirds that was previously believes particularly when prey is especially scarce. They are likely to be providing an invaluable service for the other species of birds, chief among them the most endangered species such as Cape cormorants.

Helping conservation

By conducting research on the African penguin, scientists hope they will discover further clues that will aid them in their efforts to save the species. The population of the African penguin has declined by an eye watering 70 per cent since 2004. With some good data and expert analysis, hopefully we will be lucky and their efforts will be fruitful.

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