Rockhopper penguins, a type featured in the movie Happy Feet, have suffered a mysterious 30 percent decline in numbers over five years in their South Atlantic stronghold, conservationists said on Friday.
The number of pairs of the small yellow-crested penguins in Britain's Falkland Islands fell to 210,418 pairs in 2005-06 from 298,496 in 2000, perhaps because of climate change, a survey by Falklands Conservation said. Figures from 1932 suggested that there were 1.5 million pairs at the time, giving an 85 percent fall in the species' main habitat, it said. Smaller colonies live in Chile, Argentina and on southern islands. "The decline of the Rockhopper penguin in the Falkland Islands suggests a massive shift in the ecology of the southern Ocean, perhaps linked to climate change," said Geoff Hilton, a biologist at Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). "We don't really know what is going wrong." Other types of penguin on the islands have not suffered such a steep decline and have recovered from a poisonous form or algae that bloomed in the South Atlantic in 2002-03, killing many penguins. "Other penguins such as the Gentoo were affected by the algae bloom but seem to be bouncing back quite well. For some reason the rockhoppers aren't," RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge said. Falklands Conservation is a partner of the RSPB. The flightless Rockhoppers get their name from the way they hop up and down rocks to and from nesting sites on cliffs -- perhaps making them use up more energy than those nesting by the shore. Time Warner's "Happy Feet," a cartoon starring singing and dancing emperor penguins, features the voice of actor Robin Williams as a Rockhopper penguin. (Reuters)