Sunday, 19 March 2017
Penguin adoption - Promises - South America Update
The chicks have now left the colony and have set off on their winter
migration to sunny Brazil, leaving Promises at home in the colony. The
adults are not able to follow the chicks yet because they still have things
to do before following the chicks to Brazil. I attach a photo showing
chicks, juveniles and adults all gathering together on the beach, prior to
leaving the colony, each to their different destinations.
The chicks have never been to sea before, so they need time to build up the
strength in their flipper muscles. Flipper exercises on land are no
substitute for time spent out at sea, because flipper flapping requires a
lot more strength under water than on land. Until the chicks have spent many
weeks out at sea building up their strength and stamina, they lack the speed
necessary to catch fish. So after leaving the colony the youngsters hang
around the kelp beds feeding on shrimps and other slow moving creatures in
order to survive.
Kelp is the typical brown seaweed that you can see floating in the water
around the coast. You will often find pieces of it washed up on the beach,
and the long branches have capsules which pop when you press them. The kelp
is actually rooted on the seabed, just like a tree, and the branches are
many metres long, making the kelp as tall as a tree.
Trees require sturdy branches to reach their height, but kelp uses the
capsules of air that are all along the branches to make the branches float
up to the surface of the water so that the kelp can catch the sunlight. Kelp
is a plant, and it needs sunlight to grow just like trees do.
The kelp beds are like underwater forests, and like any forest, they are
full of animals. Snails and barnacles live on the branches of the kelp.
Shrimps and lots of other small creatures crawl and swim amongst the
branches of the kelp in order to hide from fish that would eat them, just
like small birds hide in trees and bushes for protection. Even small fish
live amongst these underwater forests hiding from larger fish.
The young penguins find plenty to eat amongst the kelp beds. They would not
survive without them. Over the coming weeks the youngsters will slowly
strengthen their muscles and learn to swim faster and faster, so that
finally they will be fast enough to catch fish. For the last 2 months the
chicks have been used to being fed top quality fish, with 5 star
room-service included, so it is a bit of a blow for them to now be
scavenging around amongst the kelp to catch shrimps.
Fortunately there are kelp beds all along the coastline between here and
It is a very long journey, but there is no rush. The young penguins move
from one kelp bed to another, feeding at each location, and very gradually
they will make their way northwards up the coast of Patagonia until they
eventually reach southern Brazil.
Punta Tombo in southern Argentina is about one quarter of the distance that
they need to travel to reach Brazil. During the last few days the penguin
colony at Punta Tombo, which has about 180,000 pairs of penguins, had their
population swollen to well over one million penguins. These are the young
penguins stopping off to rest on their journey northwards,
There are no penguin colonies in Brazil. That is to say there are no
breeding colonies in Brazil, and no penguins actually nest there. Brazil is
just a winter feeding ground where the penguins can avoid the cold and
gloomy winter days back home in the colony. Several penguin species from
several countries spend our southern winter off the Brazilian coast, without
ever coming ashore. Most Brazilians don't even know that they have so many
penguins just offshore.
When the adults arrive in Brazil too later this year, the population will
reach about 4 million penguins, comprising of Magellanic, Rockhopper and
Macaroni penguins, all from the Falkland islands and southern Argentina and
Back home in the colony, Promises must now spend time out at sea catching
fish and relaxing. This rest and relaxation is very important for the
During chick-rearing Promises lost a lot of weigh, and must now replace that
lost weight so as to be back in good condition before the annual moult
The annual moult takes about three weeks, and Promises cannot eat during
that period, so getting back into shape before the moult is vital.
When the adults were feeding the chicks they had to swim a long way every
day, bringing fish back to the nest from the feeding grounds. Now that the
chicks are no longer in the nest there is no need for Promises to return to
the nest every day. The adults can spend all their time just floating around
near to where the fish are, which saves a lot of time and energy.
When the penguins get hungry, Promises can just dive down and catch a few
Then they can relax floating in the water for hours. It must be very
relaxing bobbing up and down over the waves with nothing to do. When the
adults want to sleep, they just sleep floating in the water.
The adults will be out at sea relaxing and eating for about three weeks
before they return to the nest. I will write to you again when the penguins
are back home in the colony next month, undergoing their annual moult.
Best wishes from Mike