ambience: African Jackass Penguins
If you want to do any serious research with penguins, you’ve got to be able to identify individuals, and track them over time. And that means tagging them, but until recently, tags were made of steel. And steel tags were harming the penguins. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Earthwatch scientist Peter Barham is with Bristol University.
“Steel tags present certain problems. They’ve got to be soft enough to be bent, physically, and it’s a very hard job to put them on. They can also, therefore, come unbent. If they become unbent, they present sharp edges to the flipper, and they can dig in and actually physically damage the flipper. A second effect, is that they can cause hydrodynamic drag. They have to be loose-fitting, because penguins molt once a year. When they molt, the flippers have to expand to about twice their size. And the steel has to be large enough that it doesn’t constrict the flow of blood to the flipper, otherwise it gets gangrene, and the penguin dies. So, this loose-fitting metal band can rattle around, literally, and that can cause drag. And that can mean the penguin expends more energy to go and get fish, which means it’s less successful at breeding.”
Professor Barham has been developing a new tag to replace the old steel ones.
“The material is a silicon rubber – it’s very flexible, very soft, and unaffected by temperature. It also, is flexible enough that we can stretch it, so that it will actually slide up the flipper, so we don’t have to bend anything or glue anything together, it’s just a one-piece band – goes right up the flipper. It’s a completely different shape – it’s shaped so that it fits flush against the penguin’s body, rather than it’s flipper. So that it actually, it’s more like an extension of it’s body, the same contours, so that drag is almost eliminated.”
The new tags are being tested on penguin colonies in Antarctica and have so far proved successful.
Visit us on the newspage of National Geographic.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.