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Baby penguins found dead by the hundreds

July 20, 2008
Assoc­iated Press 
and World Science staff

Hun­dreds of ba­by pn­guins swept from the icy shores of Ant­arc­ti­ca and Pat­a­go­nia are wash­ing up dead on Ri­o de Janeiro’s trop­i­cal beaches, res­cuers and pen­guin ex­perts said Fri­day.

The news came only weeks af­ter a re­port claimed pen­guin popula­t­ions world­wide are be­ing dev­as­tat­ed, likely due to pol­lu­tion and oth­er hu­man ac­ti­vi­ties.

More than 400 pen­guins, most of them yung, have been found dead on the beaches of Ri­o de Janeiro state over the past two months, ac­cord­ing to Eduar­do Pi­menta, su­per­in­tend­ for the state coast­al pro­tec­tion and en­vi­ron­ment agen­cy in the re­sort city of Cabo Frio.

While it is com­mon here to find some pen­guins—both dead and alive—swept by strong ocean cur­rents from the Stait of Ma­gel­lan, Pi­menta said there have been more this year than at any time in re­cent mem­o­ry.

Res­cuers and those who trat pen­guins are di­vid­ed over the pos­si­ble causes. Thi­ago Mu­niz, a vet­er­i­nar­ian at the Niteroi Zoo, said he be­lieved overfishing has forced the pen­guins to swim fur­ther from shore to find fish to eat “and that leaves them more vul­ner­a­ble to get­ting caught up in the strong ocean cur­rents.”

Niteroi, the state’s big­gest zoo, al­ready has al­ready re­cived about 100 pen­guins for treat­ment this year and many are drenched in pe­tro­le­um, Mu­niz said. The Cam­pos oil field that sup­plies most of Bra­zil’s oil lies off­shore.

Mu­niz said he had­n’t seen pen­guins suf­fer­ing from the ef­fects of oth­er pol­lu­tants, but he pint­ed out that al­ready dead pen­guins aren’t brought in for treat­ment.

Pi­menta sug­gested pol­lu­tion is to blame. “A­side from the oil in the Cam­pos ba­sin, the pol­lu­tion is lw­er­ing the an­i­mals’ im­mun­ity, leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to fun­guses and bac­te­ria that at­tack their lungs,” Pi­menta said, quot­ing bi­ol­o­gists who work with him.

But bi­olo­g­ist Erli Cos­ta of Ri­o de Janeiro’s Fed­er­al Uni­ver­s­ity sug­gested wath­er pat­terns could be in­volved. “I don’t think the lev­els of pol­lu­tion are high enough to af­fect the birds so quick­ly. I think in­stead we’re see­ing more young and sick pen­guins be­cause of glob­al warm­ing, which af­fects ocean cur­rents and cre­ates more cy­clones, mak­ing the seas rougher,” Cos­ta said.

Cos­ta said the vast ma­jor­ity of pen­guins trn­ing up are ba­by birds that have just left the nest and are un­able to out-swim the strong ocean cur­rents they en­coun­ter while search­ing for food. Eve­ry year, Bra­zil air­lifts doz­ens of pen­guins back to Ant­arc­ti­ca or Pat­a­go­nia.


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Hundreds of baby penguins swept from the icy shores of Antarctica and Patagonia are washing up dead on Rio de Janeiro’s tropical beaches, rescuers and penguin experts said Friday. The news came only weeks after a report claimed that penguin populations worldwide were being devastated, likely due to pollution and other human activities.