The Sydney MorningHerald

Scientists say tagged penguins could skew climate studies
The Sydney Morning Herald

Tagging penguins with flipper bands harms their chances of survival and breeding, a finding which raises doubts over studies that use these birds as telltales for climate change, biologists say.

The metal bands, looped tightly around the top of the flipper where it meets the body, have long been used as a low-cost visual aid by researchers to identify individual penguins when they waddle ashore.

But, says the new study, the seemingly harmless bands affect the penguin’s swimming performance, causing it to waste more energy in foraging for food, sometimes with life-threatening consequences.

Publishing in the journal Nature, French and Norwegian scientists reported they took 100 king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), selected at random on Possession Island on the Crozet archipelago, a sub-Antarctic group in the southern Indian Ocean.

Penguins sometimes feature in climate research as a tool for measuring the impact of global warming on cold-water wildlife.

But such studies may now have to be reviewed, because penguin population data could be skewed by flipper banding, says the paper.