Blogger: Campaign Manager for the Emperor Penguin and Wellington Zoo Vet Lisa Argilla.
While not widely recognised as native birds to New Zealand, the occasional appearance of Emperor penguins on our shores as well as New Zealand’s stakehold in Antarctica means that these guys should definitely be considered honorary citizens of New Zealand.
The largest of the 18 species of penguins and endemic to Antarctica, Emperors are well known for tolerating some incredible extremes which makes them most worthy of your vote for Bird of the Year.
Males in particular show some amazing tolerance and stamina as they stand for more than 2 months on the ice during the Antarctic winter and incubate their egg. By the time they return to sea after incubation they usually haven’t eaten for 115 days.
They head out to an open sea about 100km away from the colony and spend time here hunting for food. Both males and females can travel up to 1454 km per individual per trip while foraging for food to feed the chick, usually straying only 500km away from the colony.
Emperor penguins breed in the coldest environment of any bird species so have developed special physiological adaptations to allow them to cope with a wider range of temperature extremes than any other animal. Amazingly, they also cope with extreme pressure whilst diving for food – 40 times more than that on the surface. They use less oxygen, their heart slows down dramatically and non-essential organs shut down to allow them to dive for longer.
Declining food availability and climate change are the biggest threats to these amazing birds as is habitat destruction and human disturbance at Emperor colonies. It’s perhaps why they seem to be exploring territories a bit further north than they’re used to? Emperors are very sensitive to climate change which results in the loss of sea ice. Mathematical forecasts predict that possibly up to 87% of Emperors will be lost by the end of the century if climate change continues at the current rate. How tragic for such an amazing and endearing animal!
As far as penguins go these guys are very chilled out and less aggressive and vocal then their smaller counterparts who live closer to New Zealand. Guess you’d have to be a cool, calm, collected character to put up with the extreme weather conditions that Antarctica throws at you. Emperors are terrific swimmers and great at outmanoeuvring seals and orcas – their natural predators. That much-loved stray Emperor penguin, Happy Feet, even removed his tracking device and used it as a decoy to outsmart potential predators.
Antarctica is such a treasure and the animals that live there should be considered natives of any country that lays a claim to a piece of it. This is why Emperors should be seen as NZ citizens. Indeed, Happy Feet’s surprise visit to New Zealand was perhaps a reminder to the people of this land that their shores may become home to all number of environmental refugees struggling to survive in the age of climate change.
To vote, go here – www.birdoftheyear.org.nz. Polls close on November 25th.
To find out about some of the threats to Antarctica, see here