The Science of Sustainability

Penguin Sentinels

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"Penguin Sentinels" was produced by QUEST Northwest's Jo Ardinger.

Say “penguin” and the images that come to mind are of frost-covered penguin couples struggling to raise their chicks in sub-zero temperatures.

In fact, these aquatic flightless birds thrive in temperate — even equatorial — climates as well. For these temperate penguin communities, it isn’t the extreme cold of the Antarctic but the extreme sun and El Niño events that most affect their ability to survive and reproduce.

Biologist Dee Boersma has spent much of her career working with temperate penguins. This video features Boersma’s work with Galapagos penguins, which inhabit the legendary islands of the same name that lie some 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast.

Galapagos penguins represent only one of the four temperate penguin species that Boersma studies. Her research also takes her to Argentina where she studies Magellanic penguins, South Africa to study African penguins, and Peru to study Humboldts.

Dee holds a 3 day old Galapagos penguin chick.

Dee holds a 3 day old Galapagos penguin chick.

Native to the west coast of South America, this species is named for the cold Humboldt Current that ensures the upwellingof nutrients from the ocean floor along the Peruvian and Chilean coast.

A professor at the University of Washington, Boersma also brings her college students to Woodland Park Zoo, in Seattle, where they can observe Humboldt penguins in person. The Humboldts that reside at this zoo are able to stay cool and healthy with help from an innovative “green” habitat featuring a geothermal heating and cooling system. Water is continually recycled and cleaned through a “constructed wetland” modeled on a natural ecosystem. Plant roots and microbes absorb the nutrients in penguin wastewater and return it, purified, to the system.

WPZ flow diagram-rvsd Apr 10-11-300

Woodland Park Zoo's "green" penguin exhibit saves approximately 3,000,000 gallons of water and 22,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year. That's 24 million pints of drinking water and heat for five, new two-bedroom townhouses per year.

The green habitat is meant to spark visitors’ curiosity about techniques for using natural processes to live more lightly on the earth — techniques that can benefit animal and human communities alike. This simulated ecosystem also demonstrates how the health of any species is directly tied to the health of its habitat. Like the zoo’s captive penguin community, the world’s wild penguins can only thrive if the marine ecosystems they inhabit remain healthy and intact.

According to Boersma, “Penguins are ocean sentinels, telling us how climate variation, petroleum pollution, fishing, and habitat modifications are impacting penguins as well as humans. Penguins can be our ambassadors so that humans make better choices that improve the quality of life for penguins and people.”

Adult Galapagos Penguin

Links:

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood WATCH suggestions for eco-certified, “penguin friendly” seafood choices

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Category: Biodiversity, Climate, Environment, Video, Water

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Katie Jennings

About the Author ()

Katie Jennings returns to KCTS as QUEST Northwest Coordinating Producer. A public television veteran, she has produced numerous award-winning national documentaries and series including Fire on the Rim and Teachings of the Tree People. Katie served as Head of Educational Media at the outdoor learning center IslandWood on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, where she developed and produced educational projects for National Geographic and the National Science Foundation. She recently completed a Master's degree in Media Psychology and Social Change.
  • Lindsey Hoshaw

    What a phenomenal video! I had no idea that up-welling affected where and how penguins get their food. Or that people could build nests for the birds, and that with any luck it would provide a home for parents to raise their young. Great video! I especially liked the old footage of Dee working with the penguins; she's obviously been working on this a long time and it shows how her persistence and dedication has paid off.

  • Ann Berkman

    Dear Dee, What a treat to see you again. I never knew much about the galapagos penquins and thanks to this wonderful film and your hard work I feel a liitle better informed. Wish we had penquins in Florida. !!!! You look wonderful and I can't believe it has been so many years ago that we were all together. Stay well and keep up with your amazing work. Ann

  • http://www.unctv.org David Huppert

    who knew?!?! great story!

  • Katie Jennings

    Didn't video producer Jo Ardinger do a great job with this story? And she's off this weekend with Dee to the Galapagos to document how the penguins are taking to the 120 nests Dee built last year. The ocean is cool – food is plentiful – conditions are right – they are hoping to find lots of new little penguin chicks!

  • Jason Black

    This is a great story, Katie. It's encouraging to see passionate people like Dee making a positive impact through their work. Fingers crossed for lots of baby penguins!

  • http://ideastream.org Anne Glausser

    I love the tummy shot. Great video.

  • http://www.argentinavision.com Willie Paats

    Felicitaciones a Dee por su tesón y trabajo permanente por el cuidado de los Pinguinos.

  • Dyan deNapoli

    Fantastic work, Dee!! And how gratifying to see the fruits of your labor so quickly! Keeping my fingers crossed that the birds will continue to use the nests you've built for them, and that the population will start to climb. <(")