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Thousands of female penguins are stranded in South-America

Female Magellanic penguins, shown here, are stranded on the coast of South America, and the researchers don’t know for sure why.
(Takashi Yamamoto)

Near the southern tip of South America, thousands of ladies, wives, mothers, anchovy lovers — disappear from their nests.

The women in question are Magellanic penguins — a mid-size kind of black-and-white bird native to South America, the region of Patagonia. When not breeding in the latter part of the year, both male and female members of the species migrate north to Uruguay and Brazil to hunt for the delicious anchovy that call those waters home. Over the past ten years, but scientists have observed a disturbing trend: some of the penguins swimming too far to the north — sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from their breeding areas and get stuck.

According to a new survey published today (Jan. 7) in the journal Current Biology, every year, thousands of Magellanic penguins not return home from their migrations. Some become stranded on the coast of Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. Others washing all dead, their stomach is empty or polluted with plastic waste. Strangely, about two-thirds of the stranded birds his wife. [Photos of Flying Birds: All 18 penguin Species]

Takashi Yamamoto, lead author of the new study and a researcher at the Institute of Statistical Mathematics in Tokyo, wanted to know what happened, and why female penguins were disproportionately affected. So, he and a number of colleagues tagged a small group of 14 Magellanic penguins (eight men and six women) with a GPS ankle monitor, then looked at where the birds strayed after their breeding period ended in early 2017.

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After a few months of observations, the team saw a clear pattern. During the spring and summer migrations, and male penguins tend to dive deeper and stay closer to their Southern breeding grounds; female penguins swam closer to the surface of the water, but migrated significantly further to the north than their male colleagues.

There, in the waters near Uruguay and southern Brazil, the penguins approached known penguin stranded hotspots. According to the researchers, these stranding sites — such as the river in the vicinity of the city of Buenos Aires, in northern Argentina — will likely fall to the penguins by a mixture of strong currents prevent smaller body birds bathing house and man-made threats. “These [threats] are the pollution of water by oil development and maritime transport and fishing threats, such as bycatch and the depletion of the prey,” Yamamoto said in a statement.

The reason that female penguins seem to be disproportionately stranded in the comparison with men may be as simple as body size. According to the researchers, female Magellanic penguins are smaller than the males, which could make it harder for them to compete for food in the densely populated southern waters, or to fight against the strong current in the north. A smaller body also means a greater sensitivity to ocean temperatures, Yamamoto noted. This could give the smaller-bodied females have a preference for hunting in warmer waters to the north in the direction of the equator, and, for the avoidance of deep dives in the cold, dark ocean.

This small study is only a first step in the direction of the understanding of the cause and extent of the mysterious bird have a role to play. But according to Yamamoto, that much is clear: if there are less and less women return to their breeding grounds each year, the viability of the entire Magellanic penguin population could soon be in danger.

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Originally published on Live Science.

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