Lost Penguins Hop On A Flight Home To Southern Brazil
Two months ago more than a thousand juvenile penguins washed up on the shores of northeast Brazil in extremely poor condition. Northeast Brazil is much farther north than their usual 'home' range, some of the penguins were found as far north as Natal in Rio Grande do Norte. This type of unusual event appears to be naturally occurring and has been seen two or three times in the last 20 years.
Media were quick to link this to global warming, but the science to substantiate this claim is not there yet.
According to penguin researcher, Dr. Dee Boersma, there is a flow of warmer water which has caused the juvenile penguins to keep going north, past their usual range where they are unable to find adequate food. There is always a high mortality rate for first year birds, however traveling farther north and given the lack of available food increased the normal mortality rate for this group of penguins even more. Almost all of the penguins found on the beaches in northeastern Brazil were juveniles; starving and in an extremely debilitated state.
Local wildlife groups were alerted to the condition of these penguins and quickly began rescuing them. Instituto Mamíferos Aquáticos was one of the centers in Brazil who made room for the rescued penguins and offered them rehabilitative care at their center in preparation for release. To date, around 850 penguins were rescued. Sadly, many of the other juvenile penguins died on the beach.
There are very few rescue teams in this area of Brazil that understand the critical needs of penguins during rehabilitation and the facilities required to prepare them for release back into the wild. IFAW has worked in this area of Brazil before. Our Emergency Relief team offers experitise in penguin rehabilitation. Therefore, the Brazilan Government and the wildlife groups asked IFAW to begin assisting with the care of the penguins and to provide further advice for rehabilitation and release.
IFAW arrived on scene and immeditaely began advising with respect to working with large numbers of captive penguins and how to institute herd health protocols, basic triage and pre-release evaluations. The overall goal was to help these groups provide the best level of care and to explain how to move the birds through a rehabilitation process in the fastest way possible. This would help to ensure that the birds don't succumb to captivity related problems which will render them non-releasable.
With IFAW's assistance many of the penguins are now ready for release. We have now been asked to help oversee the release evaluation, banding and transport of these animals as they prepare for release back to the wild. A group of approximately 375 Magellanic penguins are ready to go back to the wild.
The Emergency Relief team will oversee the transport of these birds by a C-130 Hercules Brazilian military aircraft that will fly the penguins from Salvador to Pelotas. Pelotas is located on the southern tip of Brazil. Once arriving in Pelotas, the birds will be transported to Rio Grande and overnight at a rehabilitation center. If all goes well the release could happen the following day.
As I am writing this, I have just received news that our team and the penguins have begun the flight boarding process. This is a very exciting event not only for us, but also for the generation of juvenille penguins who are getting a second chance at survival. Thanks to the support of the Brazilan government and to the Brazilian rehab centers (Rehabilitation Center for Marine Mammals, Instituto Mamíferos Aquáticos, Instituto Orca) for understanding the critical needs of these animals and the importance of their survival for the conservation of the species. As information comes in I'll be sure to post the latest. Stay tuned!