Project Information taken from the WWF South Africa Website:
In this proposed study, WWF will investigate the energy requirements of moulting and breeding African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), using doubly labelled water methodology.
The additional use of logger technology and camera traps will provide information on the activity of breeding birds and help to calculate energy expenditure per activity.
Of the 1.5-million African Penguin population estimated in 1910, only some 10% remained at the end of the 20th-century. African penguin populations, which breed in Namibia and South Africa, have declined by 95 percent since preindustrial times.
Commercial fisheries have forced these penguins to search for prey farther off shore, as well as making them eat less nutritious prey, since their preferred prey has become scarce. Global climate change is also affecting these penguin's prey abundance.
As recently as the mid-twentieth century, penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and were still being collected for sale. Unfortunately, the practice was to smash eggs found a few days prior to gathering, to ensure that only fresh ones were sold. This added to the drastic decline of the penguin population around the Cape coast, a decline which was hastened by the removal of guano from islands for use as fertilizer, eliminating the burrowing material used by penguins. Penguins remain susceptible to pollution of their habitat by petrochemicals from spills, shipwrecks and cleaning of tankers while at sea.
Disaster struck on 23 June 2000, when the iron ore tanker MV Treasure sank between Robben Island and Dassen Island, South Africa, oiling 19,000 adult penguins at the height of the best breeding season on record for this vulnerable species. The oiled birds were brought to an abandoned train repair warehouse in Cape Town to be cared for. An additional 19,500 un-oiled penguins were removed from Dassen Island and other areas before they became oiled, and were released about 800 kilometres east of Cape Town, near Port Elizabeth. This gave workers enough time to clean up the oiled waters and shores before the birds could complete their long swim home (which took the penguins between 1 and 3 weeks). Some of the penguins were named and radio-tracked as they swam back to their breeding grounds. Tens of thousands of volunteers descended upon Cape Town to help with the rescue and rehabilitation process, which was overseen by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), and took more than three months to complete. This was the largest animal rescue event in history; more than 91% of the penguins were successfully rehabilitated and released - an amazing feat that could not have been accomplished without such a tremendous international response.
The African Penguin is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. The African Penguin is listed in the Red Data Book as an endangered species.
Their predators in the ocean include sharks, cape fur seals and, on occasion, orcas. Land-based enemies include mongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs - and the kelp gulls which steal their eggs and newborn chicks.
Also known as the black-footed penguin, it is found on the south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with the largest colony on Dyer Island, near Kleinbaai.
The project is designed to provide a comprehensive and unique data set that will support calculations of the energy requirements of the African penguin during different stages of its life cycle.
This can then be used for comparison with other energy data on seabirds including, for example, gannets, so that values for total fish requirements for penguins and other seabirds can be charted throughout the year. Furthermore, this could provide vital information to the authorities regarding changes in the upwelling system on which these birds depend and thus can help to formulate long-term conservation strategies for the African Penguin to avoid extinction of this species.
The main aim of the proposed project is to assess total fish requirements for the African penguins throughout the year and thus obtain definitive information on the impact of fisheries and/or changes in the upwelling system on which these birds depend. This will involve investigation of activities of adult birds and their energy expenditure per activity.
This information will be used for modelling different scenarios in terms of foraging efficiency, choice of nest site in terms of walking distance from the coast etc. and thus will help to assess whether there is a need to design and implement long-term conservation strategies for the African penguin