Penguins adrift

I noted earlier that hundreds of baby penguins are being washed, dead, onto beaches thousands of miles away from their native lands. Various causes have been suggested, including the idea that the penguins are swimming into unfamiliar and penguin-hostile waters in search of fish, diminished in supply owing to overfishing.

Well, this phenomenon has continued, and sifted northwards.

While penguins commonly wash up as far north as Rio de Janeiro state in July and August – hundreds have done so this year. Bahia is roughly 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) northeast of Rio.

P. Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington who works with penguins in Argentina, said that while she has heard of penguins occasionally washing up as far north as Bahia, the numbers washing up this year are extremely high.

“The last time that you got a lot of penguins was in 2000, mostly in Rio but some further north. That year the sea surface temperature was a degree lower than the 30 year average so the penguins just keep swimming in search of food without noticing where they’re going,” said Boersma in a telephone interview from Seattle.

She also said overfishing near Patagonia and Antarctica could be a factor. In the past decade, penguins have had to swim an average of 40 miles (60 kilometers) further north to find food, Boersma said.

The majority of penguins turning up are baby birds that have just left the nest and are least able to outswim the strong ocean currents.