Monday, September 28, 2009

King penguins make a comeback

Posted Mon Sep 28, 2009 5:34am AEST

King Penguins re-populating in Southern Ocean

King Penguins were virtually wiped out on Macquarie Island about 100 years ago.

Scientists are celebrating the re-colonisation of king penguins on Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean.

When Macquarie Island was discovered in 1810, it was teeming with king penguins, but by the turn of the century, hundreds of thousands of birds had been slaughtered for blubber oil.

Only a small colony of the birds survived at Lusitania Bay on the island.

Almost 100 years later, John van den Hoff from the Australian Antarctic Division says he is surprised to find King Penguins at the Macquarie Island isthmus where a century ago they had been exterminated.

"Without having read the historical accounts, we had no idea there were ever birds on the isthmus," he said.

He believes the population at Lusitania Bay has grown to the point that penguins are looking for more real estate.

"There are now 250 chicks in that colony and growing," he said.

"We hope it will continue to grow and perhaps the numbers will reach such a point on the isthmus that they'll have to move on to colonise other parts of the island as well."

Penguin biologist Barbara Wienecke says finding the population has recovered is a rare occurrence.

"There are only very few documented examples where colonies have popped up again," she said.

"All species have an extraordinary affinity to the colonies from which they would have left as fledglings, so to hear that a brand new colony is popping up on an island ... is really fantastic news."


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