Penguins Harmed by Tracking Bands

wikipedia imageJanuary 17, 2010 - Putting tags and bands on animals to track their movements and gain understanding of their activities has been a standard practice for half a century. More recently, studies of penguins identified by bands on their flippers have been used by climate scientists to study the effects of global warming in the Southern Ocean ecosystem.  A new study just published in Nature shows that banding of free-ranging king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) impairs both their survival and reproduction. The bands diminish the penguins ability to swim so they are less efficient at gathering food for themselves and their chicks.

Over the course of a 10-year study, banded birds produced 39% fewer chicks and had a survival rate 16% lower than non-banded birds, demonstrating a massive long-term impact of banding and thus refuting the assumption that birds will ultimately adapt to being banded. Moreover, the flipper-banded penguins behave differently than unbanded penguins, calling into question the methodology of such studies.

But tracking remains critical to understanding. One solution is to use tiny microchips inserted under the penguins’ skin. This method was chosen by the authors of the Nature study.