Category: Argentina


Happy World Penguin Day

By Midge Raymond,

Today is World Penguin Day!

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Not that we need an excuse to celebrate these magnificent birds … but it’s still fun to see them getting a little extra attention.

After all, they need the exposure: penguins are facing threats from multiple fronts, from climate change to overfishing. I love this post from One Green Planet, which offers five ways you can help penguins.

To discover the very latest in what’s new with Magellanic and Galapagos penguins, visit the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels. And if you follow Penguin Sentinels on Facebook, you’ll be treated to wonderful penguin videos.

And to learn about the researchers who count penguins at the bottom of the world, check out The Penguin Counters, a documentary about these dedicated researchers and the species they study in Antarctica.

And, finally … stay tuned for My Last Continent, coming on June 21 from Scribner! In this novel, you’ll meet four species of penguins: three Antarctic species, and the Magellanic penguins of Patagonia. Check out the book club kit for a little more info, and join my mailing list for news and updates on the book.

Happy World Penguin Day!

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Can birds love?

By Midge Raymond,

I loved this article about pigeons, in which author Brandon Keim writes about an avian romance blooming in his Brooklyn neighborhood. This excellent essay reminded me of a pair of pigeons that attempted to roost and raise babies in the eaves of my own back porch a few years ago (which inspired a short story, “Nesting”). My husband and I loved watching them build their nest, and we shooed away the neighborhood cats who kept harassing them, hoping the birds would stay —yet their attempt to start a family was unsuccessful, and they left us.

It never occurred to us not to see these two pigeons as a pair in love—but then, we’re strange that way, at least according to some people. This is among the reasons I so enjoyed Keim’s essay, in which he writes, “Perhaps love is not what defines us as human but is something we happen to share with other species, including the humble pigeon.”

I’m a writer, not a scientist, so it’s not unpardonable for me to anthropomorphize in my fiction—but what’s remarkable is how many scientists are now talking and writing about animal consciousness in such books as Animal Wise, How Animals Grieve, and Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

As both a writer and small-press publisher, I love hearing from animals in well-written fiction, too. Among our Ashland Creek Press titles is Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s Love and Ordinary Creatures; steeped in extensive research, this novel tells the haunting story of a parrot who, stuck in captivity without a mate, bonds with his human caregiver—a beautiful and heart-rending story of unrequited love.

Sometimes, as Keim’s article points out, “love’s ultimate measure is the presence of its converse, grief.” Keim offers several examples from the world of birds, and many of us have likely seen it ourselves among other animals—for example, when one of our pets loses a sibling. I felt as though I witnessed penguin love firsthand, while in Patagonia for a Magellanic penguin census, when I saw paired-up birds lying together in the sun or huddled together in their burrows.

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It’s easy to say that we humans are simply projecting, that our own capacity for love makes us believe we’re seeing this in other creatures. But even if this is true, is it such a bad thing? Keim writes, “Ubiquitous and unappreciated, typically ignored or regarded as dirty, annoying pests, pigeons mean something else to me now…Each one is a reminder that love is all around us.”

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And the more of us who can see love in the creatures around us, the better we’ll all become at protecting them and the habitats they live in.

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Chasing Penguins

By Midge Raymond,

As soon as I met my first penguins (chinstraps, Adélies, and gentoos) in Antarctica more than twelve years ago, I fell in love with these incredible animals. Two years later, when I had the opportunity to help the University of Washington’s Dee Boersma with a Magellanic penguin census in Patagonia two years later, I (along with my husband) pounced on the opportunity — not only to help with the amazing research Dee is doing but to learn about, and spend time with, another species of penguin; Dee has been studying the Magellanic penguins since 1982.

And when, a decade after our Patagonia penguin adventure, we learned that Dee would be a naturalist on board an expedition to the Galápagos Islands — home of the rare and endangered Galápagos penguin —  we jumped again at the chance to meet yet another species with the world’s leading penguin expert.

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Even Darwin didn’t see penguins on his visit to the Galápagos Islands, and to this day no one knows how many penguins now exist there (the estimate is between 1,500 and 4,700 — about half the numbers that existed when Dee began studying these birds in the 1970s).

When we arrived in the Galápagos, Dee advised us that we would have one chance to see Galápagos penguins on this journey, around the waters of Floreana Island. At first we were discouraged by the crystal clear (albeit gorgeous) waters, which are not ideal for the penguins’ fishing. We didn’t see a single penguin during an hour-long panga ride — but then, as we swam and snorkeled off Post Office Bay, a penguin popped its head above water to take a breath before diving back under to continue hunting.

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At first, as I was snorkeling, I saw only one penguin, diving for fish, swimming under and all around me (while they are comically slow and awkward on land, penguins are utterly graceful underwater), and then I saw another, about twenty feet below me, trying to snatch food from the other’s beak. Every time a school of fish changed direction and sped away, one of these two penguins was in close pursuit.

A short time later, back in our panga, we saw several more penguins, this time fishing in a group of four. Galápagos penguins look similar to Magellanic penguins, with the dark band around their white chests, but they are much smaller (though their beaks are roughly the same size, making this species look a bit big-nosed).

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As we watched the penguins, they began to fish with blue-footed boobies. In the photo below, you’ll see the boobies in the background; they dive for fish from high in the air, while the penguins work underwater.

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We observed this animated feeding frenzy for about forty-five minutes before the birds began to disperse, looking quite well fed. While we’d have been thrilled to get merely a glimpse of the Galápagos penguins, it was an extraordinary experience to see so many of them (about five or six, the naturalists believe, in all) swimming and porpoising and diving all around us.

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Our expedition group left Dee in Ecuador, where she was next headed to Isabela and Fernandina Islands to check on the nests she and other researchers have built to help the penguins’ breeding efforts.

And, shortly after we returned home, the University of Washington, where Dee holds the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science, announced that Dee is one of six finalists for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for conservation — the highest honor for animal conservationists, which has been awarded every other year since 2006. The winner will be announced in the spring of this year; click here to learn more about the work that has earned Dee this honor.

I’m looking forward to news from Dee’s time on the other Galápagos islands. To learn more about Dee’s work, visit Penguin Sentinels — and to see more of the elusive Galápagos penguins, visit www.iGalápagos.org.

 

 



Penguin Awareness Day

By Midge Raymond,

January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day. Why celebrate a day of penguin awareness, you may be wondering — and how?

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There are 17 species of penguins throughout the world, and penguin awareness is important because these incredible birds face increasing threats every day, worldwide, from pollution to overfishing to climate change. Click here to learn about the most pressing threats to penguins and how you can help.

Another way to help penguins is through citizen science — visit Penguin Watch, and you can take part in ongoing Antarctic penguin research. You can help researchers by annotating images, without ever leaving your desk (though these amazing photos will make you feel as though you’ve traveled around the world).

Check out the Penguin Sentinels organization, a collaboration between the University of Washington, Global Penguin Society, Province of Chubut, and the La Regina family of Punta Tombo, Argentina, and is dedicated to research, conservation, and education. In addition to working at the Punta Tombo colony for more than 30 years, this group also does great work in the Galápagos Islands.

Learn about another penguin program at The Penguin Counters, which follows researchers on their Antarctic penguin-counting journeys.

And, if you’re crazy about penguins, check out the book Penguins: Natural History and Conservation, which offers an in-depth look at all 17 species of penguins and the challenges they face…and help ensure they’re around for generations to come.

And, a million thanks to Scribner for this delightful image of an Adelie penguin with MY LAST CONTINENT (which is about two penguin researchers working in Antarctica).

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The truth about Antarctica’s ice

By Midge Raymond,

A recent NASA study has been making headlines because it has revealed that Antarctica is gaining ice rather than losing it (which contradicts other studies, including one by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). And yet…

“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” said Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published on Oct. 30 in the Journal of Glaciology.

And, while the study shows ice gain in East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica, it may not make much of a difference in the end. Zwally notes, “If the losses of the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica continue to increase at the same rate … I don’t think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses.”

In addition, while NASA concludes that Antarctica isn’t currently causing a rise in the oceans, this means that there’s another contributor out there.

“The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” Zwally said. “But this is also bad news. If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for.”

And while it’s heartening to know that Antarctica is colder and snowier than previously believed, this doesn’t mean we can ignore climate change. This New York Times article portrays the results of a study with a stark headline: Study Predicts Antarctica Ice Melt if All Fossil Fuels Are Burned. As one of the study’s researcher notes, “To be blunt: If we burn it all, we melt it all.”

In other words, the scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concluded, if we continue to burn the earth’s fossil fuels, all of its land ice will melt — not only Antarctica — and the total rise in sea level could be more than 200 feet. The New York Times spells out what this new world would look like:

A sea level rise of 200 feet would put almost all of Florida, much of Louisiana and Texas, the entire East Coast of the United States, large parts of Britain, much of the European Plain, and huge parts of coastal Asia under water. The cities lost would include Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Washington, New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, Paris, Berlin, Venice, Buenos Aires, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney, Rome and Tokyo.

This piece in National Geographic sums up NASA’s study with a Q&A that shows global warming isn’t something we can ignore. As University of Alaska, Fairbanks glaciology professor Erin Pettit tells National Geographic, “adding a little snow to Antarctica in no way offsets the complete disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet in the near future.”

In other words, despite some potentially good news about our southern continent, the problem of global warming is here to stay, and we must take better care of this planet. The very good news is that we can all make a difference — with our habits, our diets, our votes, and our wallets.

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Pirates v. pirates on lawless oceans

By Midge Raymond,

It’s been great to see stories about illegal fishing on the front pages of two major newspapers over the past week. Overfishing is one of the biggest dangers facing our oceans … and yet, often there is little that can be done, as this front-page Los Angeles Times story points out. This is why the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s work is so vital; as the organization puts it: “It takes a pirate to catch a pirate.”

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The LA Times story focuses on the Kunlun, “a decrepit fishing vessel, its huge white hull streaked with filth and rust,” which was suspected of holding $5 million worth of illicit Patagonian toothfish, better known by its more user-friendly name “Chilean sea bass,” a fish whose stocks have been dangerously depleted due to overfishing and is now considered a threatened species. After the market for Chilean sea bass boomed in the 1990s, by the year 2000 twice as much of the fish was being caught illegally.

This article, as well as yesterday’s New York Times cover story, feature the Sea Shepherd’s efforts to end illegal fishing (as well as whaling and other atrocities against marine life) in international waters where poachers are rampant. The NYT piece focuses on the Sea Shepherd’s 110-day pursuit of the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, via the Bob Barker.

As the Times points out:

Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished. Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List, a status reserved for only four other ships in the world), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it.

So Sea Shepherd did instead, stalking the fugitive 202-foot steel-sided ship from a desolate patch of ocean at the bottom of the Earth, deep in Antarctic waters, to any ports it neared, where its crews could alert the authorities.

It’s wonderful to see the Sea Shepherds getting such positive press for the important work they do. “Maritime lawyers question whether the group has legal authority for its actions — ranging from cutting nets and blocking fishermen to ramming whaling vessels — but Sea Shepherd claims its tactics are necessary. So do some Interpol officials.” In waters where no Coast Guard exists and where poachers will change a ship’s name and port registry up to a half-dozen times, as Australian senator Peter Whish-Wilson told the Times, “Sea Shepherd is doing what no one else will.”

Learn more about the Sea Shepherds and how they help protect the oceans … and, even better, help solve the problem at its roots by not eating fish (this article makes a good case for avoiding fish; these 99 reasons not to eat fish include endangered species as well as important health concerns; and this infographic shows the environmental and ethical impacts of the seafood industry).

 

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Meet Turbo the Penguin

By Midge Raymond,

One of the great joys of volunteering with the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels to help count Magellanic penguins was meeting Turbo.

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He’s a unique bird in so many ways, and beloved even by those who have never met him. He got his name the year he decided to nest under a Ford Turbo instead of in a burrow or under a bush like most of his species. And while most penguins will scurry away at the sight of humans, Turbo would walk right up to you, and he even liked being patted on the head (which made the neighbor cats a little jealous).

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Each year, I eagerly await news from the penguin program about what’s new the colony, but especially for news of Turbo. There’s a lot going on with the Magellanic colony where he lives — the colony is in decline due to such factors as oil pollution, overfishing, and climate change — but hearing news of Turbo each season gives me hope that these magnificent birds will make it in the end.

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Researchers believe that Turbo is now about 11 years old. This season, he found himself a wonderful nest in a big molle bush, and we’re all hoping this will help him find a mate. (Yes, he’s still single after all these years.)

Visit the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels to sign up for news and updates, and you can also keep up with Turbo via Facebook.



Ground zero for climate change on earth

By Midge Raymond,

I just read this recent article by Amanda Biederman — a scientist stationed at the U.S.’s Palmer Station, located on the Antarctic peninsula — who writes about being at once removed from the media’s coverage of climate change, yet also being at ground zero at the same time.

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Biederman writes about the scary news from NASA about the imminent disappearance of the Larsen B ice shelf, as well as the fact that on the other side of the continent, in East Antarctica, while there had been increases in ice shelf volume between 1994 and 2003, this part of the continent is also experiencing ice shelf loss at the rate of 56 cubic kilometers per year.

Climate changes threatens not only the wildlife in Antarctica, as well as the ability to continue research there — it will change entire map of the world as we know it. Biederman writes:

If the entire Antarctic ice sheet melted, global sea levels would rise by 60 meters. Much of the U.S. East Coast — including about one-third of Maryland and the entire state of Delaware — would be underwater. Denmark and the Netherlands would disappear. Large portions of other countries, including the U.K., China and Brazil, would be destroyed as well.

It’s so easy to think of Antarctica as a faraway place, where what happens there doesn’t affect the way we live. But it does…and it will even more over time.

“This is not an issue that will be resolved on its own,” Biederman concludes, “and the time for making the environmental protection a priority is long past due.”



Counting penguins

By Midge Raymond,

While these days, I can only count penguins via Penguin Watch, several years ago I was fortunate to have been able to help count penguins at Punta Tombo, in the Chubut Province of Argentina (one of the settings in MY LAST CONTINENT) with the University of Washington’s Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels.

 

This was in 2006, and back then it had been about 15 years since the previous census. A small group of volunteers, we counted all the penguins in 731 circles (in teams of two, we counted all the nests, birds, and eggs within five-meter circles spaced about twenty meters apart) and discovered that there were 155,000 nesting pairs at Punta Tombo.

This colony has been studied for about 30 years, and unfortunately, the number of active nests at Punta Tombo has decreased by about 1 percent each year. Reproduction was better than average this past season, but there were fewer active nests, which means fewer chicks fledged than in most years. The main cause of chick death was, as usual, starvation — due to overfishing, penguins have trouble finding food close to the colony, and when they have to go farther for food, it’s more likely they won’t make it back in time to feed their hungry chicks. Climate change has also affected the penguins — one rainstorm this season killed 3% of the chicks from a 100-nest area.

Like these two lovebirds nesting above, many penguins mate for life — and the research being done will help us figure out how best to help them survive on the long term.

Learn more — and find out how to help keep this important research going — at the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels.

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