Sunday, December 22, 2013

Galapagos Penguin

The Galapagos Penguin is a bird in trouble. Numbers have sharply declined since the 1970s (when Erika and I took this photograph). First, the species breeds only on the Galapagos Islands—95% of the 1000 existing individuals mostly breed on but two islands; the species is seldom found further than 40 miles from the archipelago (Birds of the World Alive).

More and more frequent El Nino fluctuations result in marine “perturbations” from which the penguins have a difficult time recovering (Birds of the World Alive). In the early 1980s, El Nino currents caused a 77% reduction in numbers and in late 1990s the penguins suffered a 65% decline. Apparently females suffer higher mortality than males, making recovery more difficult.

That’s not all. Feral and domestic cats kill about half the breeding birds each year. Tourists and fishermen also disturb breeding penguins. The birds are often drowned after being tangled in fishing nets. Overfishing also wipes out the bird’s prey. 

Maybe worse yet, in the 1980s the Southern House Mosquito was accidentally introduced to the Galapagos. The mosquitos carry avian malaria and Galapagos Penguins are highly susceptible to this disease. On top of that, the feral cats carry Toxoplasma, which has also been found in the penguins. 

Perhaps the only good news for this penguin is that the entire population breeds within Ecuador’s Galapagos National Park. These islands lie 575 miles from the South American mainland.

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