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Every autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, Magellanic penguins leave their coastal nesting sites in South America. For adults, their summer task—breeding, or at least trying to—is complete. Newly fledged chicks and adults gradually head out to sea to spend the winter feeding. They won't return to land until spring.
Yet life for these birds when they winter offshore is largely a mystery to the scientists who study Magellanic penguins—and who advocate for their conservation amid declining population numbers.
Winter - Period - Something - Box - Terms
"The winter period is something of a black box for us in terms of understanding Magellanic penguins," said Ginger Rebstock, a University of Washington research scientist. "We know the least amount about this part of their year."
But research by Rebstock and P. Dee Boersma, a UW professor of biology and founder of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, is starting to pry open that black box and discover how Magellanic penguins from one nesting site, Punta Tombo in Argentina, fare during the winter months. In a paper published Aug. 9 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, they report that the Río de la Plata—which drains South America's second-largest river system after the Amazon—strongly influences oceanographic conditions in the Magellanic penguins' winter feeding waters. Those oceanographic features, they report, show up in the body conditions of Magellanic penguin females, but not males, when the penguins return to their nesting grounds in spring.
Researchers - Penguins - Biology - Health - Population
"Researchers only get to study the penguins up close—monitor their biology, their health, their population numbers—for the one time in the year that they come to nesting sites like Punta Tombo to breed," said Rebstock. "Until now, we have not really known how conditions out in the ocean, where they spend the entire winter, affect them."
Magellanic penguins are believed to swim hundreds of miles in winter to feed on fish such as anchovy and...
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