Banding Penguins for Research Can Harm them, Study Shows
14.01.2011 - Logistics, Flora & Fauna, Antarctic
According to research findings published in the journal Nature, placing flipper bands on penguins to track them in research studies could have a negative effect on them. It appears that penguins wearing bands produced fewer chicks and had a higher mortality rate than penguins not wearing any bands.
After the first evidence that banding might harm the penguins emerged in the 1970s, a number of scientists have decided to drop the use of the bands altogether. Many have switched to using tiny radio-signal emitting chips that can be injected under the skin of penguins.
Yvon Le Maho, a physiologist at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) Centre d'Ecologie et Physiologie Energétiques in Strasbourg, France decided to settle the issue on whether bands create problems for penguins. In the late 1990’s, he and various colleagues studied a colony of king penguins on Possession Island near Antarctica, of which more than 400 had been tagged with microchips. From this group, the scientists selected 100 individuals, which they outfitted with flipper bands. Using underground antennas, the birds were tracked over a ten-year period, from 1998 until 2008.
The results of the study show that the bands have a negative impact on penguins. Banded penguins have a 16% lower survival rate than the non-banded penguins in the study, arrived later at the breeding grounds, had to swim longer distances to forage for food, and had 39% fewer chicks than the non-banded penguins. The researchers hypothesize that the bands might cause drag on the penguins when they swim, which forces them to make a greater effort to cover the same distance.
Le Maho also pointed out that research results from banded penguins – ones which are investigating the effects of climate change in particular – could be biased. While not necessarily wrong, he suggested the numbers might need to be reconsidered.