Next time you see the penguins at Boulders Beach they will have GPS trackers and pink spots

2019-05-22 10:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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The penguins at Boulders Beach in Cape Town will be getting a little high-tech over the coming breeding season.

In an effort to monitor their movement and nesting patterns, around 30 penguins will be tagged by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) from May to September, with batches of six birds per sampling period for the maximum of 2 days.

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The tuxedo birds will be fitted with electronic loggers that record their Global Positioning System (GPS) locations and dive depths as well as video footage of their behaviour at sea. These devices will be attached to their lower backs with waterproof tape.

A small group of penguins will also be marked with a non-permanent pink dye in order to see how much they visit their nests during the breeding season and make selecting birds going hunting in the ocean the next day easier.

Their movements were last observed in the early 2000s, and this study will be led by UCT's FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. The trackers have been used in most colonies around South Africa and Namibia, and is an important tool to manage their conservation.

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“The current study will be a great comparison to the earlier study in False Bay and will close the gap in knowledge on the foraging behaviour of African penguins all along our coast, as False Bay is an important habitat and a key area to protect the species,” says Dr Katta Ludynia, Research Manager at SANCCOB.

Our waddling friends have had many challenges over the last century - the African penguin's population has drastically declined over the years to only 23 000 breeding pairs left in the wild, a major concern for Dr Alison Kock, a marine biologist from SANParks' Cape Research Centre who will also be involved in the study. 

“The findings of this research project will assist the scientists to better understand the types of fish the African Penguins eat in order to help manage fish stocks more sustainably, determine their hunting areas that can be used to motivate for the extensions of Marine Protected Areas and knowing where they go can help limit threats to these areas, like pollution,” adds Kock.

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