Penguin Futures – Population Mapping
In January 2010 the ZSL Penguinologist Tom Hart and one of the ZSL London Zoo Penguin Keepers travelled with Exodus to Antarctica on two back-to-back sailings of the Antarctic Explorer trip aboard the Clipper Adventurer in order to carry out some important conservation work mapping penguin populations. Tom explains how the project works and how Exodus clients can get involved by sending him photographs of penguins taken in Antarctica.
“Antarctic penguin populations are facing serious threats from climate change and fisheries. It is a known fact that The Scotia Arc and the Antarctic Peninsula are subject to rapid climate change and that this has already impacted on penguins; we are seeing the creation of small new colonies while many established colonies are declining.
While these are worrying trends, conservation decisions are often hampered by a lack of basic biological data – in particular, there is little long-term monitoring in remote areas. Conservation bodies alone cannot tackle climate change, but we can design mitigation strategies. If we know how penguins are moving in response to fisheries and climate change, we can ensure that protected areas are in the right place for the future, rather than historically important areas. To do this, we need more frequent ‘penguin’ data from many more locations.
Penguin Futures is a project from the Zoological Society of London, which has been set up to collect much more data. Together with Exodus, we are using expedition cruise ships to fill in the knowledge gaps.
We do this in two ways:
By collecting penguin feathers and extracting their DNA, we can determine the relatedness between different birds within a colony and therefore follow the movement of individuals and populations. We use a technique used in forensics to identify individuals, but we do this on a much larger scale. We have already used this technique to make a population map of Macaroni penguins around South Georgia and we have now expanded to all species of penguin in Antarctica. Exodus are helping by providing free berths for our research team on some of their Antarctic Expeditions.
Counting penguins from tourist photos:
We are setting up a monitoring system whereby counts of colonies are extracted from tourist photos, which allows visitors to Antarctica to participate in conservation. These photos are not just useful for counts; repeated counts over time allow us to estimate peak chick hatching and other useful indicators for more colonies. Exodus clients can get directly involved and participate in the research project.
How can you help?
Do you have any oblique photos of penguin colonies like the image below? If you do our Penguin Futures team would like to have them. Your images help us to train our computers to count penguins, and allow us to set up a penguin monitoring network! Please email any suitable photographs you have taken of penguins in Antarctica to firstname.lastname@example.org
ZSL London Zoo