Durban — Saturday, January 20, was Penguin Awareness Day and the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr) shared information about the flightless marine birds.
Saambr spokesperson Ann Kunz said that although African Penguin Day is celebrated in October, Penguin Awareness Day is dedicated to raising awareness about all of the species of penguins, including the African penguin.
“The much-loved penguins are an iconic species for marine conservation as they are an indicator species for the health of the oceans, much as the canary in a coal mine – if they are in trouble then we are in trouble. Humans depend on healthy oceans as much as penguins do,” Kunz said.
She described penguins as flightless marine birds with large torpedo-shaped bodies and short necks. Their tails are short and stiff and their legs and feet are set far back on their bodies, which enables them to stand upright. Watching them waddle on land they can seem a little awkward but it is most endearing. They are at their most agile in the water and can reach great depths with incredible speed in search of food. They spend most of their waking hours in the ocean and come on land to rest and breed. Penguins are sociable birds (unlike many other seabird species) and live in colonies.
“Of the 18 different species of penguin, the African penguin is listed as one of the five penguin species currently listed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as endangered,” Kunz said.
On African penguins, Kunz said they are also known as the jackass penguin and are found nowhere else in the world except off the coast of southern Africa. They live and breed on a limited number of offshore islands in colonies between Namibia and Port Elizabeth as well as on a few mainland beaches. The population is rapidly declining, with only 14 000 breeding pairs left, compared to 25 000 pairs in 2015.
Kunz said many penguin species are facing a decline in their numbers because of both natural causes and the impact of human actions.
“We all know what we can do to keep our oceans clean – put our litter in a bin, pick up other people’s litter and, wherever possible, separate our litter for easy recycling,” Kunz said.
“Although there are many threats facing penguins, one threat is directly in our hands. Plastic waste does not belong in the ocean.”
Kunz asked, out of the diverse range of penguin species, do you have a favourite?
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