Science: Patagonian penguins wash up on Brazil’s shores

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Patagonian penguins wash up on Brazil’s shores

More than 500 Magellanic penguins have washed up on the shores of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. Though Patagonian penguins migrate north every winter in search of food, warming waters and less prey are forcing the penguins to swim further north. Inexperience is also a factor—these penguins were mostly juveniles on their first migration. This year, Magellanic penguins were found swimming as far north as Rio de Janeiro, delighting tourists and worrying scientists.

University of Washington professor and Magellanic penguin expert Dee Boersma says this has happened before. “Every few years the young penguins during their first migration don’t find enough food and many of them keep traveling north and end up coming ashore in Brazil because they are starving to death,” Boersma said in an email.

In 2008, she and a group of Argentine and Brazilian scientists investigating a dieoff of more than 3,000 Magellanic penguins along 5,000 kilometers of Brazil’s coastline concluded that the animals—mostly juveniles—were “dehydrated, anemic, hypothermic, and emaciated.”

A combination of warmer waters, less prey and inexperience were cited as causes, in addition to contamination from oil spills. The temperature variability in the south Atlantic has been linked to climate change and Boersma urges more research to be done on Magellanic penguins for their role as sentinels of this change.

More detailed autopsy results are expected within 30 days from Ceclimar, the Brazilian Center for Coastal Studies at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.

Colombia’s retreating glaciers

Colombia has lost more than 50% of its glaciers in the last 50 years. Today, six glaciers remain nestled among the highest peaks of the three mountain ranges that traverse the country. For their proximity to the equator, Colombia’s glaciers are called tropical, or equatorial glaciers. Ecuador, east Africa and New Guinea host the others, all of which are receding.

“In the last six years there’s been total disequilibrium,” says Jorge Luis Ceballos, a research scientist at Colombia’s national institute of hydrology, meteorology and environmental studies (IDEAM). He says that climate change is melting the glaciers Colombia has left. “If these conditions persist, it’s probable that they will disappear completely in the next 30 or 40 years.”

Which is why he’s intent on monitoring the climatic conditions at these high-altitudes. Ceballos and a team from the federally-funded IDEAM have installed five meteorological stations across Colombia’s highest peaks to monitor air temperatures, solar radiation and other factors that could be driving the retreat of the remaining glaciers.

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