Thursday, September 19, 2013

IPC8 HomepagePenguin researchers, and experts from rehabilitation centers, zoos and aquariums gathered from around the world at Bristol University, Bristol, UK to attend the 8th International Penguin Conference (IPC8) from September 2nd to 6th. It was the first time the penguin conference was held in Europe. Several events were held at Bristol Zoo where they have a captive colony  of African penguins. Ideas were shared, questions raised, results discussed,  advice given, colleagues reunited, friendships made, networks created; it was an inspiring and exciting time for penguin research and conservation!
An African Penguin seen from below at Bristol Zoo.
Our research team presented findings about breeding African penguin foraging behaviour and local prey availability at Robben Island. When penguins are provisioning for their chicks they are central place foragers. This means they go to sea to get fish (mainly young of the year anchovies) and return to their nest to regurgitate the fish to their chicks to feed them. So at this stage penguins are limited in the distance they can go from the island colony. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have been conducting hyrdo-acoustic surveys around the island while University of Cape Town students and postdocs collected penguin foraging track data using GPS Temperature-Depth logger devices. In 2011 and 2012 we concentrated our research efforts to have penguins at sea with devices at the same time as fish surveys were taking place. We are working towards understanding how penguins foraging effort is linked to the amount of pelagic fish locally available to penguins around the island. Conference delegates gave insightful feedback and these interactions have already led to interesting ideas for further analysis. Thanks to IPC8 and Ma-Re Marine Research Institute for providing travel funding to attend the conference. This research is ongoing and Kate Robinson will now be analysing and adding in the 2013 data collected by Dr. Katrin Ludynia with the assitance of Dr. Richard Sherley and EarthWatch teams. This research will also be presented at the Biodiversity Southern Africa conference in Cape Town taking place at the Department of Biosciences at University of Cape Town  Dec 2nd to 6th 2013.
Captionless Image

The Association of Early Polar Career Scientists (APECS) held a fantastic workshop prior to the start of the conference. It featured tips on public speaking, networking exercises and a review of hot topics in penguin research and conservation. Thanks APECS for helping us prepare for the conference.

There was a wide range of topics from population to behavioural ecology, climate change/research impacts, new technologies and approaches in bio-logging and bio-indicators, and even penguin fossil records. There were many fascinating talks one of the most lively was on 'The Power of Poo - Diet analysis of Adelie penguins from fecal samples' a non-invasive diet sampling method using DNA analysis to identify diet. African Penguin research was well represented with 13 talks and at least 15 posters. With over a 100 posters on a large array of topics, there was an impressive body of work to explore and discuss. An online pdf of all the abstracts is now publicly available and can be found here.

Thought provoking workshops were held in the afternoons. They were: 'Crested Penguins - the next steps', 'The Penguin connection - conversations about conservation', 'Penguin bycatch - which species are affected and how can we reduce incidental penguin mortality in fishing gear?', and 'Creating the tools to identify Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas as Precursors for the creation of marine protection and reserves of relevance to penguins' a data sharing initiative specific to penguin data by BirdLife International coming soon. Their Seabird Tracking Database is already up and running with tracks from mainly albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters. It currently has data from 42 species and over 8900 tracks.

There was a public evening event 'Penguins on Film' hosted by Professor Lloyd Davis from University of Otago. It featured talks by a panel of world leading experts. Frozen Planet director Elizabeth White shared her experiences of traveling down to the Antarctic Peninsula by yacht and the behind the scenes details of how the footage of juvenile Adelie penguins taking their first swim was planned and captured. Professor Peter Barham and Dr. Tilo Bughardt demonstrated some amazing penguin robot cams with some very clever biometrics that could identify people, estimate their age, sex and even facial expressions.
Egg Cam
Emperor penguin cam has a camera in it's eye.

You can see some of the shots being captured by robots cameras in Penguins- Spy in the Huddle.

An African penguin day was held at Bristol Zoo following the conference. Families gathered to hear Dr. Lauren Waller from Cape Nature, Christina Moseley from BirdLife South Africa and Dr. Richard Sherley from University of Cape Town gave talks during the penguin feedings.
Bristol Zoo Gardens
Conference delegates exploring the penguin exhibit answered questions from the public.
Unfortunately, not all those working on African penguin research and conservation could make the trip to Bristol. For one thing, an oil spill took place on August 8th when the Kiani Satu, a bulk carrier containing 330 tons of fuel oil and 15,000 tons of rice ran aground off Buffels Bay near Knysna releasing oil into the Goukamma Marine Protected Area. An impressive collaborative effort got quickly underway and some oiled seabirds were even air lifted from Bird Island in efforts to transport birds to St. Francis the eastern section of SANCCOB the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.  To date, 112 oiled penguins and 173 oiled gannets were admitted.  Penguins can be thought of as sentinels of our oceans and coasts.  Oil  and pollution can impact many sea creatures but especially seabirds as it disrupts their waterproofing. Normally their feathers interlock to keep them waterproof but oil disrupts this and can cause oiled birds to quickly succumb to hypothermia. When a bird is oiled one of it's reactions is to try and preen its feathers clean thus ingesting the oil which is toxic and can burn their throat, lungs, and digestive track. On August 17th, some of the first seabirds were released, 47 of the Cape Gannets were returned to the wild. Rehabilitation work involves a lot more work than just cleaning and releasing the birds. The birds need to be re-hydrated, fed, enclosures need to be made and kept clean and the birds are regularly examined by the vets. The rescue work continues at St. Francis with help and support from the local community. Check out SANCCOB's website to hear more details of their latest news.

You can help penguins by simply not using plastic bags at the grocery store, or re-using those you already have. Most plastic bags end up at landfils or littering the landscape and far too many end up in our oceans. Another thing that is easy to avoid and can make a big impact is plastic straws. They are one of the most numerous items of litter we find on the beach clean-ups on Robben Island. Caring for our coasts is caring for penguins. Make a penguin promise today.

Thanks to IPC8 for a fantastic and stimulating conference.  The next international penguin conference will be in South Africa in 2016! More details of IPC8 and news of international penguin conferences to come can be found on the IPC8 website.

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