Photos:New Year sunset at Steeple Jason with rockhopper silhouette and James Robinson with a rockhopper penguin ready for a GPS collecting mission!
One of the best loved penguin species in the Falklands – the charismatic rockhopper penguin is our logo at Falklands Conservation and our flagship species. However this little penguin faces a “rocky” road ahead, as populations plummeted over the last century, causing global concerns for its future survival.
A small team returned to Beauchene Island, the southerly FIG owned Nature Reserve, this month. We were ashore just long enough to retrieve the trackers from the penguins at their nest sites including 34 geolocators for the Bristish Antarctic Survey - who in collaboration with FC will also be examining data on rockhopper penguin winter migrations from the Falkland Islands. The satellite trackers and also more geolocators were also retrieved from penguins at Steeple Jason Island (WCS owned) in October.
Two of the rockhoppers (Rocky & Olly) have started their journey back down south, towards the Falkland Islands. Interestingly, both left the shelf edge at an almost identical point - is there some ocean feature that they are using to make this decision? Both are now in deep oceanic waters (1000-2000m depth) and travelling south at some pace. Rocky has travelled approxiamtaley 1250 km since the 8th July or an average of 100km per day. Thats a lot of swimming for a small penguin! On the other hand, Ben and Peter have not really travelled far at all since the 8th July, foraging more or less around one spot. Steven Fry, is no longer sending out satellite signals from his tracker (the battery has probably stopped). Rocky and Olly seem to be heading to a destination with a purpose so it will be exciting to see where they will be in the next few days (fingers crossed the batteries keep going)
The rockhoppers are moving slowly further northwards following the Patagonian Currents on the Shelf. Rocky is now at latitude 39 degrees 48 minutes South and 1,300km from the Falklands and Olly just over 1,000km. The penguins have been at sea now for 3 months since they left the Falklands at the end of their breeding season. The question is how much further north will they go and how long will the batteries of the satellite trackers keeping going for? The rockhoppers return to the Falklands around mid - late September - so they have another few months still before coming ashore.
Latest tracks (26th June) show the rockhopper penguins (red dots) travelling north up the Patagonian Shelf off the coast of Argentina. One penguin (Olly) is now 1,008km from the Falkland Islands and adjacent to the Valdés Peninsula - current latitude is 41 degrees 96 minutes south. Rocky is not far behind and some 977km away from the Falklands. These two rockhoppers are foraging on the very edge of the continental shelf - these shelf 'breaks' are often very productive for marine life as the upwelling from the deeper colder oceanic waters bring nutrients to the surface - the base of the food chain that many seabirds, including penguins rely on.
The children of IJS helped raise money to pay towards a satellite tracker by holding a black and white day at school. We deployed 8 satellite trackers on the penguins in March, and returned to the school during May this year to explain how the satellite trackers worked and where the penguins where going. We also asked the children to provide some names for the rockhopper penguins.
The Falkland shores have become quieter as the rockhopper penguins leave their colonies to spend their winter (May to September) foraging exclusively at sea.
After leaving Jason Islands, at the north-west of the Falklands, equipped with satellite trackers (Sirtrack, KiwiSat 202 PTT), two of the rockhopper penguins are now foraging on the Patagonian Shelf and near the coast of South America in the Bahia Grande region. The rockhopper penguins have travelled some 400km since leaving the Jason Islands at the beginning of April. Other rockhopper penguins carrying PTTs are now foraging around the Jason Islands and inshore along West Falkland....
During mid March to April, rockhopper penguins come ashore and moult all their feathers over a 28 day period. The adult birds have finished rearing their chicks and now are preparing to depart back to the sea for the winter period. Rockhopper penguins spend the winter months entirely at sea, and only return to land to breed again next summer. During March 2011, Falklands Conservation attached satellite trackers (Sirtrack, KiwiSat 202 PTT) to newly moulted rockhopper penguins at Steeple Jason (Wildlife Conservation Society owned) and Beauchêne Island. The information will show where the penguins are feeding during the winter months - they can swim hundreds of miles away from the Falklands to feed.
Photos above: Rockhopper wearing a Sirtrack satellite tracker. The trackers are attached using a special adhesive tape under the feathers. These can be pulled away to remove the tracker and causes no lasting damage to the feathers. (S Crofts)
Females were tracked using GPS devices with built in temperature and pressure sensors (earth & OCEAN Technologies, Germany) during the brood period. In January we tracked females only at Steeple Jason, with the permission of Wildlife Conservation Society (owners). Females were making daily or two-three day trips away from the colony up to 30-40 km offshore. During the crèche period the males departed on foraging trips and females spent longer at sea to feed themselves and gain body condition.
Breeding pairs were counted at all 35 colonies in the Falkland's archipelago in late October and early November. Initial results show an increase in breeding pairs at certain sites and some decreases at other locations. Final results will be available later this year, which will give is a better indication of the current population status of the Falklands' population
The Seabird Island Census Team (Falklands Conservation) at Beauchêne Island October 2010