Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stray Penguins Probably Reached Northern Waters by Fishing Boat

Guy Demmert got quite a surprise when he hauled a fishing net into his boat off the coast of southeast Alaska in July 2002. There among the salmon, in living black and white, was a Humboldt penguin, thousands of miles from where any of its kind should have been.

So how is it that birds that swim rather than fly and live almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere turned up deep into the Northern Hemisphere? Did they migrate more than 5,000 miles from Peru? That's doubtful, say two University of Washington biologists. Were they the remnants of efforts to introduce breeding penguin colonies into the Northern Hemisphere? Probably not. Did they escape from zoos? Not likely.

The most probable explanation is that the creatures were hauled aboard boats – probably fishing boats -- in southern waters and were kept by the crews as the vessels traveled far to the north, then were released, concludes a new research paper by Dee Boersma, a UW biology professor noted for her penguin studies, and Amy Van Buren, a UW doctoral student in biology.

"The crews keep the penguins as pets on board the boat. They're appealing," said Van Buren. "People keep them around because they're so cute."

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