Even penguins have joined the high tech world of the Internet! The world of the web now enables conservationists to log on to a website to receive messages from 17 rockhopper penguins dotted all over the South West Atlantic up to two-thousand miles into their annual winter migration foraging at sea. After several months at sea, they are now returning to the Falkland Islands to go ashore for the summer breeding season.
It is the latest phase of Falklands Conservation's Satellite Tracking Study of the Winter Migration of Megallanic and Rockhopper Penguins breeding in the Falklands, to try to find out why their numbers are declining.
With transmitters taped to their backs, the penguins have been sending back data to a satellite which passes over four times a day in polar orbit, to a base station in Toulouse in France, then to Falklands Conservation. In co-operation with the Saint Andrew's University Sea Mammal Research Unit at Fife in Scotland, they analyse the information which is put on the Internet. Each penguin's transmitter is operated by a sea-water switch, switching off underwater and on when they surface.
The rockhopper penguins, tagged at three Falklands locations, Seal, Saunders and Sea Lion Islands in March, send back data daily, until the birds return to their colonies to breed in October or until the transmitters fall off. The work is based at Sea Lion Island, close to the ?Special Area of Co-operation' with Argentina for possible oil exploration, and right next to a major fishing area for squid which forms a large part of the rockhopper diet.
The Falklands have the world's largest concentration of rockhopper Penguins and a quarter of the world population of gentoo penguins, with three other breeding species (king, magellanic and macaroni). Penguins are highly vulnerable to oil pollution, entanglement in marine debris and changes in the marine ecosystem. Falkland waters have become an area of large scale commercial fisheries and oil exploration, accompanied by an expansion of tourism and shipping. Recent events have clearly demonstrated the potential threats posed by shipping and oil related activities with oiled penguins coming ashore. Even when ashore, the penguins are becoming more exposed to disturbance from thousands of cruise ship passengers visiting breeding colonies.
This study is a major effort by Falkland Conservation to find out why there has been such a drastic decline in penguin numbers, down 90 per cent, from three-million rockhopper penguins in the 1930's to only 300,00 today. The reasons remain largely unknown. To find out and identify conservation measures to protect and halt the de