Counting Penguins to Understand Climate Change

Written by on September 30, 2013 in Marine Life, Penguins

Daily Summary

Humpback whale with a scrape on its rostrum. Scientists say injuries such as this one are sometimes a result from bottom-feeding.

Humpback whale with a scrape on its rostrum. Scientists say injuries such as this one are sometimes a result from bottom-feeding. Photo credit: NOAA/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Research reveals bottom feeding techniques of tagged humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
New research reveals previously unknown feeding techniques used by humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The whales have three distinct feeding approaches: simple side-rolls, side-roll inversions, and repetitive scooping. A side-roll is defined as a roll between 45 and 135 degrees from a normal orientation along the sea floor. A side-roll inversion continues past the 135 degree mark. The researchers note that the feeding behavior puts the whales at risk for entanglement in bottom set fishing gear. For more information on whale feeding behavior, check out this cool study: Researchers double depth at which technology can identify whale prey.

Sea horses in Maine? Warm-water ocean species growing more prevalent in New England (link no longer active)
Sunfish, sea horses, triggerfish and filefish, species that typically live in the off the southern U.S. coast, have all been spotted by fishermen in New England. Other mid-Atlantic species like croaker, cobia, spot, black sea bass and longfin squid have also been seen more and more often in the colder New England waters and the Gulf of Maine. Other species normally found in the Gulf have shifted northward. These changes indicate that the Gulf of Maine is warming rapidly.

Adelie penguin.

Adelie penguin. Photo credit: Michael Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA.

Want to know state of the planet? Count penguins
Penguins act as an indicator of climate change, so scientists can use penguin populations to determine the effects of climate change on other parts of the world. Soon, scientists will begin counting Adelie penguins in the western Ross Sea region of Antarctica in an annual census. Previously, the counting was done by hand from photographs. Over the last three decades, the population has numbered around 240,000 breeding pairs in the three main colonies. That number represented about a quarter of all the Adelie penguins in the Ross Sea region and 10 percent of the global population. Now, counting will get easier with semi-automated software and satellite imagery. In addition to learning about climate change from Adelie penguin populations, researchers also hope to learn more about these penguins to better manage the delicate Antarctic ecosystem.

And a bonus because you have to see these pictures: Surfer goes to head-to-head with pod of dolphins as he takes on gigantic Australian waves… and loses.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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