Tourists Spend Thousands To Swim Among Penguins In Antarctic

Tourists and Barbijo penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) are seen on Half Moon island, Antarctica on November 09, 2019. PHOTO: Johan ORDONEZ / AFP


“It’s like getting stabbed,” a tourist exclaims, as he plunges into the three-degree Celsius¬†(37-Fahrenheit) water, all under the intrigued gaze of a group of penguins.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.

To reach the Antarctic destination the 58-year-old Norwegian, Even Carlsen, travelled 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles), and spent thousands of euros.

Mostly indifferent to the bipeds donning neon-coloured windbreakers, wildlife abounds in the deafening silence of the icy landscape.

The penguins are as awkward on land as they are agile in water, while massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.

Antarctica, a land of adventure without rulers, is “like the heart of the Earth,” according to Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

He said it expands and contracts like a beating heart, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system absorbing warm currents from other oceans and redistributing cold water.

But this long tongue of land that stretches towards South America is warming rapidly. Its glaciers are melting and its ecosystem has been invaded by microplastics carried by currents.

¬†‘Keep nothing but memories’

Tourists are also flocking to the area in greater numbers. This season nearly 80,000 visitors are expected, a 40-percent increase compared to last year.

Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.

“Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories,” is their motto.

It is Antarctica’s very vulnerability that is a draw, with tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of what one day might be gone.

But critics question this sort of tourism, as the emissions from world-crossing flights and soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of cruise ships are part of what is putting the region under threat.

On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins — named for the black stripe on their chin — strut about in the spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.

“This is to tell other males ‘this is my space’ and also, perhaps, ‘this is my female’,” ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss tells AFP.

The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years. It is not known if it is the fault of humanity.


Climate Change, Over-fishing Threatening African Penguins – Scientists

Scientists Say Climate Change, Over-fishing Threatening African PenguinsClimate change is directly causing potentially catastrophic falls in the African penguin population in the crucial Benguela ecosystem, say scientists in the UK and South Africa.

A team led by Dr. Richard Sherley, from the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, tagged 54 juvenile African penguins from eight colonies and tracked them across their breeding distribution.

Sherley said overfishing, combined with environmental changes off western South Africa, is dramatically reducing populations of fish eaten by penguins in the regions.

Changes in both the temperature and salinity of the waters in the Benguela ecosystem is causing fish to move east. As a result, the young penguins are hunting for food in the wrong places.

“The Benguela upwelling ecosystem is one of the world’s most productive ecosystems, but it’s also very heavily influenced by human actions,” Sherley told Reuters at the university’s Penryn campus.

“There’s evidence of climate change induced shifts in the Benguela which have caused species to shift eastwards and of strong impacts of fishing in parts of the Benguela. In Namibia particularly fish stocks, stocks of sardine, have collapsed.”

Juvenile African penguins seek out areas of low sea temperatures and high chlorophyll-a, which indicates the presence of plankton and therefore the fish, such as sardines and anchovies, which feed on it.

“When they (juvenile penguins) go to sea for the first time, they’re not helped by their parents and don’t have any knowledge of where they might find food. All they can do is follow cues that they’ve evolved to detect. So they end up where there’s no food and as a consequence, the first year survival for African penguins is very low,” said Sherley.

Sherley says environmental degradation causes maladaptive habitat selection so that cues which used to work for a species now put them in danger.

“They travel over thousands of kilometres to get to these particular locations. When they get there they’re not finding the food that they need. The human impacts have broken the system in a certain way, so they’re getting stuck in what’s known as an ecological trap.”

The African penguin, once known as the jackass penguin, is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The situation in the Benguela ecosystem is worsening their plight.

“Our population modelling suggests the Western Cape population is about 50 per cent the size that it would be if this trap wasn’t operating; the African penguin is endangered. It’s declined by more than 50 per cent over the last three generations, so around 30 years. The Western Cape population which used to be the stronghold has declined by about 80 per cent in the last 11 or 12 years.”

Sherley believes that fishing should be suspended when prey biomass drops below certain levels and says major conservation action is required to save the bird.

The research was carried out in conjunction with the University of Cape Town and published in the journal Current Biology.


Penguins Down Predators In Stanley Cup Final

Nick Bonino scored twice, including a game-sealing empty net goal, to help lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators Monday night in the opening game of the NHL Stanley Cup Final.

The Penguins took a 3-0 first period lead on goals from Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary, and Bonino before Nashville fought back to even it 3-3 on scores from Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons, and Fredrick Gaudreau.

Jake Guentzel beat Predators goalie Pekka Rinne with a shot high on the glove side with 3:17 remaining to put Pittsburgh back on top 4-3 before Bonino’s empty-netter sealed the win.

The best-of-seven series will resume with Game Two Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.