For those of you who are just reading this, Durden is our adopted penguin in Patagonia. As part of the adoption, we get regular emails from our little guy 😉 This one in particular is most informative on the situation of penguins in the southern most regions of South America.
Our lovely vacations in Brazil are now at an end and we are on our way back home.
We should arrive back home in October ready to begin laying eggs in November.
I only hope that the nest has not been badly damaged by the winter storms whilst
we have been away.
It is sad saying goodbye to all the new friends that we have made during our
vacations. Of course we will all be back here again next year, but with over
a million penguins gathered here, it is hard to find individual friends amongst
so many penguins. Each of the countries where our friends live are all a bit
different, and I attach a photograph showing what penguin nests look like in
This year we are a bit late heading off home, so we will have to hurry a bit
if we are to arrive on time. Once we get home there is lots of work to be done,
repairing the nest, laying eggs, and then sitting on the eggs for weeks so that
they can hatch. I would rather not think of all that work yet, and enjoy the
last few days of our vacation.
The journey home is always nice. We see lots of different places as we swim along
the coast of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. There are lots of ships travelling
along the coast too, but we keep well away from them. Most of them are transporters
carrying cargo to and from South America. Some are oil tankers too, taking oil
from South America to all parts of the world.
The ships travel faster than we do. If we wanted to race with them we can swim
faster for an hour or so, but eventually we get tired swimming at top speed and
have to slow down and take a rest. They just keep on going hour after hour, day
and night. We sleep at night.
Once we are back home and we have laid the eggs I will send you a new photo.
That will probably be in mid November. In the meantime the scientists that look
after us in the colony have written a report about how well we did last year.
It is too complicated for me to understand, so you will need an adult to help
you understand. I guess its a bit like a school report. I hope I passed.
Lots of love from Durden
Report on last season’s research and monitoring.
Whilst the penguins are on their way home I can share with you the results of
last season’s research and monitoring. It has been yet another really good year
for Argentina, again taking top spot for breeding success. In Chile the colony
is still struggling to recover from the awful drought two years ago, but has
improved considerably since the year before. In the Falklands it is the same
sad story of commercial fishing taking priority over wildlife. I attach a photo
showing nesting conditions in each of the three colonies in which we work. As
you can see, they are all very different.
Beginning with the graph for Cabo Virgenes in Argentina (the attachment entitled
#Argentina.gif). You can see that for every 100 eggs that were laid, 63 healthy
chicks fledged (fledged means survived to leave the colony to begin life as adults).
Each penguin lays two eggs, so 63% (63 chicks fledging per 100 eggs) is an average
of 1.26 chicks per nest, which is fantastic. Anything higher than one chick per
nest is good.
If you are unsure where these numbers come from, take a look at the scale on
the left-hand side of the graph and you will see it says “% of Eggs / Chicks
surviving”. This is the number of eggs or chicks still surviving out of every
100 eggs that were originally laid. Immediately after egg-laying the line is
at the very top which is 100%, but it gradually declines as some eggs and chicks
are lost. The more eggs and chicks that are lost, the lower the graph drops.
The very bottom of the graph is zero, which would mean that not a single egg
This graph gradually declines from 100% to 63% as it moves along from left to
right, which is the passage of time. So for every 100 eggs laid, 63 chicks were
successfully reared to the point where they left the colony to begin life on
The shape of the graph is also important. Some loss of eggs and small chicks
is unavoidable, due to eggs being infertile, bad weather, eggs being stolen by
predators, chicks getting cold, etc. etc. This is natural and can change from
year to year depending on the weather and other natural factors. But in a healthy
colony with a good food supply, larger chicks should not die, and the graph should
level off over the last few weeks of the season, which is exactly what we see
here. Virtually all the chicks that reached two or three weeks of age survived
and left the colony.
Look now at the graph for Isla Magdalena in Chile, and you can see how the graph
declines more steeply during the first few weeks, before finally levelling off.
This is because a drought two years ago killed off most of the grass, allowing
loose soil to blow across the island during strong winds, which in Patagonia
is most of the time. The problem is made worse by the fact that penguins here
nest in burrows rather than under bushes, because there are no bushes on the
island. If you look at the photos, the photo for the Falklands is what the burrows
on Isla Magdalena should look like, but since the drought they are surrounded
by loose soil. At Cabo Virgenes in Argentina the penguins use bushes because
the soil is too sandy and stony to make burrows.
In most cases burrows are better than bushes, giving better protection against
predators and bad weather, but not in Chile during dust storms, because the loose
soil carried by the wind trickles into the burrow hour after hour, day after
day, gradually filling the burrows with loose soil. The adults try their best
to kick out the loose soil that continually falls into their burrows, and so
do we during our nest inspections, but with the soil trickling in 24 hours a
day, seven days a week, inevitable some eggs get partially buried, get cold,
and fail to hatch as a result.
The graph continues declining well beyond the line dividing eggs and chicks because
this line is an average for the colony as a whole, and may be very different
from any actual penguin. In addition, eggs that fail to hatch remain in the nest
way beyond the average hatching date, and are still counted as surviving eggs,
until such time as the adults finally give up hope and abandon the nest. Only
then are the eggs marked as having been lost, which is why the line declines
way beyond the average hatching date even when due to high egg losses.
The fact that the line levels off during the last few weeks shows that apart
from the problems of loose soil resulting from the drought, that Isla Magdalena
is otherwise a healthy colony with abundant food supply. It used to be our most
successful colony until the drought, and hopefully the vegetation will continue
to improve, allowing the colony to return to its former glory.
This last season the colony averaged 44 chicks fledged from every 100 eggs, which
is an average of 0.88 chicks fledged per nest (44% of two eggs). That is slightly
below the one chick per nest required to maintain a healthy population, but penguins
live to about 25 years of age, so they can easily cope with a few bad years.
Our main concern for this colony is that the unusual drought, which has occurred
twice during the 16 years that we have been monitoring this colony, may be a
result of climate change. If the droughts become more frequent the colony could
be in trouble without human intervention. Our annual monitoring is very important
at this colony to keep an eye on the situation.
The Falklands is an ongoing saga of greed winning out over concern for the environment.
The incredibly wealthy Falkland Islands, with an annual income of more than 30,000
US dollars for every man, woman and child, is the ONLY country in the whole of
South America that refuses to protect penguins from commercial fishing, and this
is seen in the results.
The Falklands averaged only 18 chicks surviving per 100 eggs, which is dreadful.
And as you can see from the graph the line continues to decline throughout the
season, showing that even older chicks are being lost as a result of starvation.
This is due to the commercial fishing industry catching so much fish and squid
that adult penguins cannot find enough food to feed their chicks, hence the low
survival rate. This 18 chicks per 100 eggs means an average of 0.36 chicks per
nest (18% of two eggs), which is only one third of what is required to maintain
a healthy population, and this situation has been going on for 25 years, resulting
in a population decline of 90% since the establishment of the commercial fishing
industry in 1988 (see http://www.falklands.net).
As always, copies of our results are sent to the governments of Argentina, Chile
and the Falklands. We would like to thank the governments of Argentina and Chile
for their co-operation and logistical support of our work, and of course for
protecting their penguins with no-fishing zones around penguin colonies, despite
extreme poverty within their countries. It can only be hoped that one day the
Falkland Islands will decide to do the same as its poorer South American neighbours.
And finally I wish to thank all our adoptees, without whom none of this work
would be possible. All our work is entirely funded from the income we generate
from our penguin adoption programme, and the sale of my books. So thank you all.
Please spread the word about our adoption programme. The more adoptees we get,
the more we can do for the penguins.
I will write to you again in November with a new photo of Durden.
Best wishes, Mike