D’oh! Declining Penguin Population: Study Blames Research Scientists

In what is sure to go down in climate and ecology history as a classic “D’oh!” moment, a study published in Nature magazine has found that climate and ecology scientists’ practice of tagging penguins in the antarctic has led to a dramatic drop in their population.

As The Guardian reports,  tagging the penguins in order to study them led to a 16% decrease in survival rates for those penguins banded, and meant that they produced 39% fewer chicks – leading to very substantial drops in the penguin populations they were trying to study and protect (fewer penguins, having fewer chicks). The article also notes that the finding invalidates years of data and research on the health of penguins:

The researchers found that the survival rates for king penguins with flipper bands dropped by 16% and the birds produced 39% fewer chicks. The finding raises serious questions about the ethics of banding penguins for research and casts doubt on years of data produced by tagging the birds in this way.

Tagging Penguins Limits Survival Chances, Study Shows.

The study will cast new light on the problems of reflexivity in science, and would seem to invalidate previous studies which blamed global warming for declining penguin populations, when it was probably the result of the scientists themselves:

Over the past 50 years, the population of Antarctic emperor penguins has declined by 50 percent. Using the longest series of data available, reseachers have shown that an abnormally long warm spell in the Southern Ocean during the late 1970s contributed to a decline in the population of emperor penguins at Terre Adelie, Antarctica.

“We knew since the 1980s that emperor penguins had declined, but it is only today, because of the improvements of our knowledge in the climate-ocean processes, that we have been able to understand why they have decreased,” said Henri Weimerskirch of the French National Center for Scientific Research in Villers en Bois, France.

National Geographic: Penguin Decline in Antarctica Linked with Climate Change

Surprisingly, many mainstream media outlets are admitting that this is indeed the case, though as you expect, the activist scientists are protesting that “not all bands are equal” – apparently those from climate scientists are more equal:

studies that use the penguins as an indicator of climate change need to be seriously reconsidered as it might be the bands, not the climate, that is contributing to penguin population declines.

Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist and long-time penguin researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, says she thinks the French team must have used particularly bad bands.

All bands are not created equal,” she says. She published a paper last year that looked at 15 yearsof banding data for Magellanic penguins which found that bands do affect survival rates and breeding success, especially for females, but that properly {filig}tted stainless-steel bands can be used on males with little impact on survival. “To draw the conclusion that we should quit flipper banding and that we can’t tell anything about climate change from flipper banding data is wrong,” she says.

USA Today. Study: Banded Penguins Die Sooner, Skewing Climate Data.


5 responses to “D’oh! Declining Penguin Population: Study Blames Research Scientists

  1. You see, we had to destroy the penguins in order to save them.

  2. A serious own goal by environmental researchers and those supporting them (Greenpeace, WWF et al).
    I’m very surprised that they don’t always apply “primum non nocere” Hippocratic principles to research, especially if they regard animal and plant life as of equal (or, it often seems, greater) value than human life.

  3. Remember the stampeding walruses. I raised the suspicion that it was probably a couple of concerned climate researchers in a helicopter which panicked them killing a few of their number.

  4. Unintended consequences of the scientific method. It is well known in science that it is always hard to determine the effects of probes. All instruments used to study nature often induce changes in the environment being studied.

    Remember that frog species that was whipped out of existence because the scientists unintentionally introduced a bacteria/virus in their environment while studying them?

  5. Pick up a Penguin and give it a body-piercing.
    What could possibly go wrong?
    If it’s no happy and shuffles off this mortal coil, simples, it’s because of Global Warming/ Climate Change/ Climate Disruption/ Climate Challenge.
    It died because we killed it. That it died due to as-yet-to-happen future occurrences is indisputable and robustly supported by consensus Science is all the more reason why we should wean ourselves off evil fossil-fuel addiction.
    It had nothing to do with attaching well-intentioned lumps of metal to small flightless birds.
    Those ungrateful little b*stards, don’t appreciate how much we care for them!

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