Friday, December 22, 2006

Rockhopper penguin numbers tumble in South Atlantic

Rockhopper penguins, a type featured in the movie "Happy Feet," have suffered a mysterious 30 percent decline in numbers over five years in their South Atlantic stronghold, conservationists said on Friday.
The number of pairs of the small yellow-crested penguins in Britain`s Falkland Islands fell to 210,418 pairs in 2005-06 from 298,496 in 2000, perhaps because of climate change, a survey by Falklands Conservation said.

Figures from 1932 suggested that there were 1.5 million pairs at the time, giving an 85 percent fall in the species` main habitat, it said. Smaller colonies live in Chile, Argentina and on southern islands.

"The decline of the Rockhopper penguin in the Falkland Islands suggests a massive shift in the ecology of the southern Ocean, perhaps linked to climate change," said Geoff Hilton, a biologist at Britain`s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). "We don`t really know what is going wrong."

Other types of penguin on the islands have not suffered such a steep decline and have recovered from a poisonous form or algae that bloomed in the South Atlantic in 2002-03, killing many penguins.

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