January 11, 2018 at 4:25 pm
Here we are, then. 2018, which will mark the fifth season of the Tawaki Project.
We have been quiet these past few weeks. The reason for that is that we were ‘out at sea’ with other projects. Of course, so were the penguins. Between mid-November and mid-December, the adult tawaki saw their chicks fledge and then headed off on their pre-moult journeys. Since then, the birds are absent from the mainland.
Well, until yesterday. We received word that the first tawaki have returned from their pre-moult journey.
Where the penguins go over the Holidays was a mystery. That is, until we managed to deploy satellite transmitters on birds from Gorge River at the end of the 2016 breeding season. The devices allowed us track the penguins all the way through until late February and March 2017. Some of the devices fell off pretty early on, other birds lost the trackers half way through their trips. But overall we managed to record more than 3000 positions from 17 penguins.
So, where do tawaki go at this time of the year?
Well, surprisingly they go a considerable distance. In early January, about half of the birds are somewhere in the middle of sub-Antarctic waters west of Macquarie Island. The others have reached South Tasman Rise, an area of shallow waters (well, relatively shallow at 400 m deep) about 800 km south of Tasmania.
To get there, the penguins travel between 1,500 and 2,500 km away from their breeding colony covering distances of 4,500 to 6,500 km. This is more than twice the distance their cousin-species Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins travel during their pre-moult trips.
There you are, another record broken by tawaki. They turn out to be true super-penguins!
January 31, 2017 at 10:47 am
The summer holidays are over. Whether we can call the post-breeding and pre-moult migration of tawaki a holiday is another question. Judging from the distances that the birds cover in the two to three months after their chicks have hatched, there is a fair amount of effort involved in their journey.
Back in mid-November we deployed satellite tags on 20 tawaki from Gorge River. Since then more than 3,000 locations were transmitted through the Argos system satellites. While some of the tags stopped submitting halfway through the birds’ journeys – most likely because the penguins managed to preen them off their backs – we still have a number of birds that are actively transmitting.
And one of them, a female tawaki, is close to home. Another 250km and she is back where she started 82 days ago. She travelled 3,830 km and distanced herself 1,370 km from her nest site in Gorge River. So the last few kilometres are peanuts. The amazing thing, however, is that this journey was just the prelude to the winter migration which the bird will go on after the moult in February. That, however, we will not be able to track as the tracker will fall off once the bird starts shedding its feathers. Good thing the Tawaki Project has another two years to go.
April 24, 2016 at 5:57 pm
The analysis of the tawaki dive data we collected at Jackson Head and Milford Sound is largely in dry towels. And the results are pretty interesting.
The GPS data penguins brought home with them already highlighted tremendous differences in the foraging behaviour at both sites. The foraging ranges (that is, the distance the birds travelled during single foraging trips) differed by almost an order of a magnitude, with Jackson Head birds swimming up to 100 km away from their breeding colonies.
In comparison to other crested penguins this is not necessarily record breaking, but still was a lot further than any of the tawaki had travelled in the previous season. At the same time, the ranges of tawaki from Harrison Cove were unbelievably short. The average distance the birds put between themselves and their nest sites was a little above 3 km. Yes, not a typo – three kilometres. These are officially the shortest foraging ranges I have ever heard of in any penguin species!
So, how does that reflect in their diving behaviour and what does it mean?
One could for example assume that penguins that travel a lot show a lower average dive depth compared to birds that hop in the water and start feeding straight away. Why? Well, when trying to cover distances it makes sense to move primarily horizontally which means many shallow dives.
And that’s what we found in the far travelling tawaki from Jackson Head. Almost half of the ca. 13,000 dives recorded in eight penguins were not deeper than 15 metres. The other 6,500 dives went down to depths of up to 90 m, although the majority ranged between 20 and 60m. So that is probably where the penguin were on the lookout for food.
So without having to travel at all… did the Harrison Cove tawaki dive deeper? No, quite the contrary! We recorded about 9,500 dives performed by six birds. And on almost 80% of these the birds stayed in the upper 15 m of the water column. What gives?
Well, underwater visibility in a fiord is quite limited. The fiord is usually covered by a freshwater layer created by heavy rainfalls that also wash a lot of detritus from the surrounding land into the water. As a result you don’t have to go down deep if you want to experience a night dive in broad daylight. This is also why in Milford Sound you can observe deep water species just a few meter below the surface.
For penguins as visually hunters that means that the darker it gets the less likely they are to spot their prey. So it seems to make sense for tawaki to stay up there… until you start to wonder why their prey does not bugger off into the darkness?
Well, perhaps it can’t because the prey the penguins were after was itself looking for food in the sunlit ranges of the fiord. Or the penguin food is brought passively to the surface by water movements. That applies for example to krill – which we found in considerable quantities washed up on the shore and which is a staple food for the tawaki’s closest living relative, the Snares penguin.
Occasionally penguin prey may be found at greater, darker depths. That may be the reason why almost all of the penguins occasionally dove down to 50 m or more. The record for the greatest depth stands at 80.6 m. After we lowered a GoPro into Harrison Cove, we can be sure that at such depths there is not a lot to see anymore.
So what have we learnt?
We have learnt that the Harrison Cove penguins were a lot better off when compared to their Jackson Head counterparts. Not only did they not have to travel to some far away foraging grounds to find food. They also did not have to dive very deep to get to it. In short, foraging at Harrison Cove was pretty damn peachy.
Whereas at Jackson Head, life served the penguins lemons. And admire them for at least trying to make lemonade. The birds did everything they could to raise their chicks. And while it was unsuccessful for many of them, I am sure, next season will see the odds evened out between Jackson Head and Harrison Cove.