The Longest Known Pre-Moult Penguin Migration

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A study conducted by researchers and led by Dr. Thomas Matten from the University of Otago from November 2016 to March 2017 discovered the longest known pre-moult migration travelled by any Penguin species after tagging seventeen Fiordland Penguins with satellite transmitters due to uncertainty about their pre-moult foraging trips.

These animals are native to New Zealand and have migrated 4,225 miles at sea to gain extensive weight lost during the breeding season (because of constant foraging and chick-rearing) as preparation for their annual moult, which is three-week period where old feathers are newly replaced, thus preventing them from going out to sea. The researchers had tracked their movements and discovered them migrating to southern Tasmania’s sub-tropical front plus the sub-Antarctic front, as they’re areas abundant in prey to sustain them during their moult. Yet, researchers are currently unsure as to why Fiordland Penguins migrate so far out to sea during their pre-moult when other species e.g. Little and Yellow-eyed Penguin, continuously stay close to their breeding area due to the abundance of prey along the southern coastline. A theory suggested is that it’s instinctive, that they’re genetically inclined to behave this way despite the abundance of prey nearby, because of an ancestral crested penguin’s behavior that they’ve inherited. This ancestor evolved in the southern sub-Antarctic area then populated New Zealand’s southern coastline which has allowed their descendants to migrate so far, compared to if they have had populated the northern coastline which would’ve prevented this migration due to the extensive amount of time and energy used during the breeding season. The research and data gathered from this study was published this year in the scientific journal PLos One under the title ‘Marathon penguins – Reasons and consequences of long-range dispersal in Fiordland penguins / Tawaki during the pre-moult period’ by Dr. Matten and his team. It provides knowledge and an insight into these animals’ behaviours and lifestyle for interested readers within the public and other scientists, thus creating awareness to help enforce effective conservation strategies since they’re listed Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

However, it must be noted that the study’s results were from the travelling of one small group over a year and therefore isn’t accurate or reliable enough to provide a detailed insight into these animals’ lifestyle and well-being. For this to be achieved, scientists from all different backgrounds will have to conduct the study every pre-moult period annually on a larger or several small Fiordland Penguin colonies to gain further information on their migratory behaviors that can aid in effectively protecting and promoting this species’ population.

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