The Southern rockhopper penguin is the smallest Falkland penguin but the most charasmatic and popular with tourists and wildlife visitors. The Falkland Islands hold a significant proportion of the world population (320,000 pairs or 36% of the global population in 2010) Southern rockhopper penguins are listed by the IUCN red list as Vulnerable through assessment by BirdLife International.
Historically, the Falkland population has under gone serious declines from the 1930's. In 1986 numbers crashed due to a mass starvation event and in 2002/03 the population was affected by a harmful algae bloom, which killed many adults. Numbers dropped between 2000 and 2005 by 88,000 pairs which was considered to be a reflection of the harmful algal event. The latest Island Wide Census in 2010 indicates that the breeding population between 2005 and 2010 has shown signs of recovery. The increase is thought to be due to favourable environmental conditions at sea with good feeding opportunities. The increase in the Rockhopper population between 2005 and 2010 is also reflected by population increases for the Black-browed Albatrosses and Gentoo Penguins breeding at the Falklands. Even so, the population of Rockhopper Penguins is unlikely to ever recover to the pre-1930 levels, when it was estimated at least 1 million Rockhoppers populated the Falklands.
Rockhopper penguins are migratory, arriving in the islands to breed in early October and leaving by the end of April. Some stay relatively close to their colony all year round, but one tracked penguin travelled a total distance of 2,119 km (1,324 miles) in 75 days.
Rockhoppers are small penguins, 60 cm (24 ins) tall, but very agile - named from their habit of hopping up steep cliffs with both feet together. One of two crested penguins found in the Islands (the other is the Macaroni penguin), they can be identified by straight thin yellow eyebrows with yellow plumes hanging above and behind their red eyes. Head, throat and back are blue-black and under parts white. The stout bill is orange-red and feet pink.
Rockhoppers breed in dense colonies on cliff tops or steep cliff sides, often with Black-browed Albatrosses or Imperial Shags. Traditional routes to nesting areas, up steep rocky slopes from the sea, have grooves worn in the rocks by thousands of climbing penguins. Two pear-shaped, whitish eggs are laid in a shallow depression. The first egg is usually much smaller and the resulting chick rarely reared successfully.
The southern rockhopper penguin breeds in the Falkland Islands. This follows the split into the northern rockhopper penguin E.moselyi and southern rockhopper penguin E.chrysocome (Jouventin et al, 2006) adopted by BirdLife International.
Falklands Conservation undertakes a programme of annual monitoring and 5-yearly census of southern rockhopper penguins. Annual monitoring currently occurs at 4 sites, comprising of 9 colonies (Huin, 2007b) and commenced in 1987. A complete island wide census is conducted every 5 years and has been undertaken in 1995, 2000, 2005 (Huin, 2007a) and 2010.
At the census in 2010 the total Falkland Islands population was estimated to be 320,000 breeding pairs. Trends over the 4 conducted censuses from 1995 – 2010 shows that there was a population increase of 0.74% p.a from 1995 to 2000 and a population decrease of 5.9% pa from 2000 – 2005. This represented a loss of 77,381 pairs or a rate of decline of 2.7% p.a. The recent 2010 census indicates that the population has is shown strongs signs of a recovery from the effects of the harmful algae bloom in 2002.
A partial survey conducted in 1932/33 by AG Bennet provides the earliest estimate of the population at approximately 3 million breeding pairs (Bennet, 1933). Following a review of this historic data, and corrections to over-estimates of colony area, a more accurate 1933 estimate of 1.5 million breeding pairs has been proposed (Putz et al 2003a). This signifies that since 1933 the population has declined by some 86%.
The diet of southern rockhopper penguin in the Falklands is predominantly crustacean prey with varying proportions of Euphasia lucens, Euphasia vallentini, Thysanoessa gregaria, Thermisto gaudichaudi and Munida gregaria. Cephalopods and fish are also taken to a lesser degree including the commercial species Loligo gahi (Croxall et al, 1985; Putz et al 2001, Clausen & Putz, 2002, Otley et al 2008). There is evidence that squid is of greater importance in the diet around the Falklands than elsewhere (Rey & Schiavini, 2005, Clausen & Putz, 2002). However over the sampled period the reliance on squid has declined with an increase in fish as a component of the diet (Clausen & Putz, 2002).
Southern rockhopper penguins have been tracked from a total of 8 sites around the Falkland Islands during incubation, brood, pre-moult and winter dispersal phases of the breeding cycle (Boersma et al, 2001,2002,2004; Putz, 1999, 2000a, 2000b: Putz et al 2002; Putz et al, 2003; FC unpublished data 2009,2010,2011). Foraging is conducted across the Patagonian shelf waters. During the breeding season birds from the northern colonies utilised the predominant current patterns travelling in an anti-clockwise manner, travelling first north, then west before returning south on a counter eddy having reached as far north as 49 degrees south. Birds tracked from southern colonies and New Island showed greater variation in tracks and utilisation travelling in a westerly direction across the shelf but also remaining in more coastal waters around the Falklands. During the winter dispersal period birds occurred within a triangle extending from Falkland coastal waters to the Straits of Magellan and as far north as 41 degrees south along the shelf break. At-sea surveys conducted through the year match these foraging patterns (White et al, 1999).
Map showing the winter foraging sites of an adult rockhopper penguin from Steeple Jason Island during March - August 2011. Note the region of the Bahia Grande of particular importance. (FC unpublished data 2011)
Rockhopper Penguins: A plan for Research and Conservation Action to Investigate and Address Population Changes: Proceedings of an International Workshop, 2008. BirdLife
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Species Action Plan for Southern Rockhopper Penguins at the Falkland Islands 2014 - 2020. Falklands Conservation
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Peer reviewed paper: Baylis, A. M.M., Wolfaardt, A. C., Crofts, S., Pistorius, P. A., Ratcliffe, N. 2013. Increasing trend in the number of Southern Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes c. chrysocome) breeding at the Falkland Islands. Polar Biology 36: 1007–1018.
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Teaching resource: Where do Rockhopper Penguins go in the winter? Ages 7-11 yrs.
The South Atlantic Invasive Species programme is currently coordinating action and response to invasive species and biosecurity issues in the Falkland Islands. There is no documented evidence of significant predation by rats, cats, mice or foxes within rockhopper penguin colonies. The impact of cats, in the presence of rats, mice and rabbits, on seabirds on New Island has been studied and found to be negligible (Quillfeldt et al 2008; Catry et al 2006). Potential for predation by foxes has been shown but is limited to the Beaver Island group and Weddel so has little impact at a population level (Philip, 2005; Ferguson 1998). Anecdotal information form other sites shows the presence of cats but provides no evidence on levels of predation.
Tourism continues to increase and the 2007/08 season witnessed a 21% growth in the cruise industry sector and 18% growth in the land-based sector (FITB, 2008). A review of the industry and potential growth has been undertaken by the FITB (FITB, 2007a; FITB 2007b). A review of potential impacts and management in generic terms has been undertaken (Strange, 1990; Summers, 2000; Ingham & Summers, 2002). Given the relatively inaccessible location of rockhopper colonies, which tend to prohibit access within the colony risks are reduced.
Southern rockhopper penguins are fully protected under the Conservation of Wildlife & Nature Ordinance 1999 and it is prohibited to collect their eggs. However tens of thousands of eggs were historically collected each year, although this practise declined from the 1960s.
Fire is an extant risk from natural causes and an increasing risk due to increasing human visitation. A countryside code has been adopted and many landowners have a no smoking policy. Sites have enough geographical separation to mitigate against catastrophic site-specific disasters.
An outbreak of avian pox has occurred in southern rockhopper penguins in the past, although most recent outbreaks have occurred only in gentoo penguins (Keymer et al, 2001; Munro 2007)
Both Falklands Conservation and FIG currently operate observer programmes. Incidental capture of southern rockhopper penguins has not been recorded within FI waters although satellite tracking has shown birds to forage across the Patagonian shelf where they may be at risk from fisheries.
Diet sampling conducted by the Falkland Islands Seabird Monitoring Programme has shown no direct competition with the commercial fishery, with only a slight overlap for Loligo gahi (Clausen & Putz, 2002). Joint research has been conducted with the Falkland Islands Fisheries Department, which confirmed minimal overlap within gentoo penguins (Clausen et al, 2005). To ascertain the full implications of the commercial fishery further research would be required to determine food webs and linkages between the various trophic levels (Clausen & Putz, 2002). An analysis of the influence of fisheries discard has been conducted in relation to black-browed albatross and ecosystem functioning, however diet sampling and observation has not shown discard to be a significant contribution to penguin species (Thompson, 1992, Thompson & Riddy, 1995; Munro, 2005; Laptikovsky, 2006).
The incidence of oil penguins is low in the Falklands due to low shipping activity and rough open seas which leads to dispersal (Smith, 1998; Nicholson & Harrison, 2001) however studies from adjacent waters in Argentina has shown that chronic oil pollution can be a significant risk (Gandini et al, 1994; Garcia-Borbonoglu et al, 2006). Vulnerability of seabirds to oil pollution in the Falklands has been mapped and this shows February to be the most critical month (White et al, 2001). The development of an offshore oil industry may increase the risk in the future.
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-Poisbleau, M., Demongin, L., Strange, I.J., Otley, H. & Quillfeldt, P. (in press) Aspects of the breeding biology of the southern rockhopper penguin Eudyptes c. chrysocome and new consideration on the intrinsic capacity of the A-egg. Polar Biology.
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Putz K. 2000b. Migration of rockhopper penguins breeding in the Falkland Islands during austral winter 2000. Falklands Conservation
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