African Penguin Awareness Days Oct. 8 – 16 at Newport Aquarium

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

Newport Aquarium is celebrating African Penguin Awareness Week October 8th  through October 16th. On Saturday, October 8th we are kicking off African Penguin Awareness Day with an entire week focused on African Penguins. During this week, we want to tell the story of the African Penguins and what the WAVE Foundation and the Newport Aquarium are doing to prevent the species from moving closer to extinction. From Saturday October 8th-Sunday October 16th we are donating every “Dollar for Conservation” that we get to SANCCOB’s disaster relief and chick-rearing efforts.

African penguins

Over the past decade there has been a dramatic drop in the population for African Penguins. In 2006, there was estimated to be over 100,000 African Penguins in South Africa. Today it is estimated to be less than 50,000 birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Why have numbers dropped so drastically?  The answer is not very simple since there are several different levels of influence on the population.  But two areas to focus would be competition for food with the fishing industry and the oil industry.

Competition For Food
The Benguela marine ecosystem is one of the richest in sardines and anchovies in the world and located off the coast of South Africa and the breeding colonies of the African Penguins.  This is a main food choice for African Penguins.  However, there is competition for food for the African Penguins; this area is also heavily fished by commercial fisheries. The competition with the fisheries and warming sea waters, forces the birds to travel further out to sea to catch fish in order to feed the chicks on the nest.

The additional travel for the adult birds only compounds the situations, expending more energy requires more food for them and their chicks. This means more time in the ocean, and the threat of predators, both at sea and on land.  At sea, the adults can fall prey to Cape fur seals and sharks.  On land, the chicks and eggs can be eaten by Kelp Gulls and small carnivores that have access to mainland colonies.

The Oil Industry
The oil industry has just increased their goals for production and the construction of more oil rigs in the region.  In 2000, the MV Treasure sank in Table Bay, South Africa.  This event caused the oiling of over 19,000 African Penguins.  Crude oil is dangerous for the penguins; it breaks down the natural water-proofing of the birds while at sea.  The oil causes them to become water-logged, hypothermic, disoriented and sometimes not able to make it back to shore.  Once on shore, the penguins will begin to preen themselves; ingesting the oil, becoming ill and potentially dying if not helped.  Rescuing oiled African penguins is a regular occurrence in South Africa.
Making A Difference
The WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium promotes and raises funds to support SANCCOB (The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) in Cape Town.  SANCCOB rescues, rehabilitates and releases approximately 1,000 African Penguins a year affected by oil.  The staff and volunteers of SANCCOB dedicate themselves every day to the African Penguins and other sea birds.  They need our support.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) initiated a program in 2015 called SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction); targeting 10 endangered species around the world.  Collaborative Conservation will identify and prioritize the needs of a species and build a 3-year Conservation Action Plan (CAP).

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium, was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium, was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

The Newport Aquarium is playing an integral part of this conservation plan.  Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) Tags are being used as part of the Individual Identification Project that the Newport Aquarium is responsible for coordinating.  A collaboration of AZA Partners – The Racine Zoo, Northeastern Zoo of Wisconsin, the Maryland Zoo, Sea World and the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium as well as our South African Partners are working together to individually identify 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years. PIT Tagging will allow biologists to assess longevity and survival, nest site, natal site and mate fidelity, inter-colony movement, and many other metrics that will be helpful to management of the species.

Now is the time to Act – you can make a difference during African Penguin Awareness Week.  Everyone can contribute to the conservation of African Penguins by visiting the Newport Aquarium.  By visiting the Newport Aquarium Gift Shop, you can make a contribution to “Dollars to Conservation” when you purchase anything in the store, or you can just make a donation at the desk.  All the proceeds during this week to “Dollars for Conservation” will go directly to support SANCCOB and the rescue, rehabilitation and release of African Penguins.

The African Penguin is an endangered species, threatened with extinction that needs our help.  You can learn more about how to contribute by visiting, www.wavefoundation.org or www.AZASavingSpecies.org

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