Peter the Penguin, who shot to fame after his amazing long distance swim from Port Elizabeth to Robben Island following the Treasure oil spill of 2000, has been spotted by members of an Earthwatch expedition team for the first time in four years.
Tragedy struck the penguin colonies at Robben and Dassen Islands on 23 June 2000, when the bulk ore carrier Treasure, sank between the two islands. Oil came ashore at both islands, threatening 40% of the world population of African Penguins.
A massive rescue operation was launched, leading to the removal of more than 40,000 penguins from these islands - believed in terms of animal numbers to be the largest wildlife rescue ever attempted. Oiled birds were collected for cleaning and rehabilitation and unoiled penguins were trucked to Port Elizabeth and released into the sea.
Amongst those released were Peter, Percy and Pamela who were fitted with tiny satellite transmitters so that researchers from Cape Town's Avian Demographic Unit (ADU) could track their progress once they left Port Elizabeth. Peter lead the race from the start and his transmitter recorded that he was the first to reach Robben Island on 18 July. It wasn't until Dr. Peter Barham, one of the scientists on the Earthwatch project South African Penguins, and his team spotted Peter lazing on the rocks on 01 April that the endless searching for this star bird could end!
Dr. Peter Barham told colleague Sue Kuyper from ADU, 'I've got Peter in view, he's still alive and this is the first time he has been seen since he returned to the island. This is no April Fool's Joke for us!'
Les Underhill, one of the leading scientists on the Earthwatch project South African Penguins, says, 'This sighting, by my colleague Dr. Peter Barham is fantastic news. As a result of rehabilitation programmes, like the one that saved Pamela, Percy, and Peter, the South African penguin population is 19% larger that it would have been* without our efforts. This is fantastic and very encouraging for us.'
Les (Director of the Avian Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town and a Professor in the department of Statistical Sciences), along with British physicist Dr. Peter Barham (University of Bristol), Dr. Robert Crawford (Marine and Coastal Management) and Mario Leshoro (Robben Island Museum) are calling for volunteers to join this remarkable Earthwatch project in 2004.
Volunteers will spend around six hours per day among braying penguins and other sea birds, deploying and recovering bands and tracking devices, monitoring assigned nests, and observing bird behaviour. They will also assist with surveys of other sea birds, including gulls, terns, and the endangered bank cormorant, to determine their breeding success, laying frequency, and survival.
Those taking part on the project will also play a vital role in testing a new plastic tag on South African penguins. Traditionally, penguin biologists have relied on steel bands attached to the wing, or flipper, to identify a given bird, but these bands are not ideal, and interfere with the bird's feeding and breeding success, especially the Antarctic Penguin.
Les further comments, 'Volunteers on this project will play a vital role in investigating how we can use this new tag design with modern tracking devices to document the distribution of penguins at sea, and identify areas where penguins are at risk from oil spills and competition with commercial fisheries.'
For more information, case studies, images and interview please contact:
Zoe Gamble, Press Officer, Earthwatch, on + 44 (0) 1865 318813 / firstname.lastname@example.org