'Naked' penguins have scientists perplexed
A worker puts a wetsuit on a featherless penguin to keep it warm earlier this week at the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.
April 8th, 2011
03:40 PM ET

'Naked' penguins have scientists perplexed

A mysterious ailment is causing penguins to lose their feathers, according to researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The condition, called feather-loss disorder, has been seen in penguin chicks in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean the past few years and is featured in a recent edition of the journal "Waterbirds," the conservation society said in a press release.

While scientists don't know what could cause a penguin to go "naked," possible culprits include genetics, nutrient imbalances, thyroid disorders or pathogens.

“We need to conduct further study to determine the cause of the disorder and if this is in fact spreading to other penguin species,” Dee Boersma, who has studied Magellanic penguins, said in the release.

Feather loss in pet birds has long been a common ailment seen by pet stores and private owners, but researchers studying the penguins in the Atlantic said this is something different.

“The recent emergence of feather-loss disorder in wild bird populations suggests that the disorder is something new,” Mariana Varese, acting director of the society’s Latin America and Caribbean program, is quoted as saying in the release. “More study of this malady can help identify the root cause, which in turn will help illuminate possible solutions,” she said.

While the illness does not appear to be fatal, the sick birds, unlike their feathered counterparts, linger in the sun instead of seeking refuge from the midday heat.  That behavior has led to several deaths, according to the release.

Disease is not the only recent peril that Atlantic penguins have faced.

A few weeks ago, volunteers from Nightingale Island, a British territory that is part of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, mobilized to save tens of thousands of Northern Rockhopper penguins threatened by an oil spill.

It has been a surreal year in animal deaths. In January, tens of thousands of birds and fish were found dead in countries around the world.

Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why.

Sensitivity surrounding marine life in the area is particularly high after the BP oil disaster that sent millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico nearly a year ago.

"Even though they have oil on them, it may not be the cause of death," Blair Mase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine mammal investigations coordinator, told CNN. "We want to look at the gamut of all the possibilities."

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soundoff (273 Responses)
  1. DirtySanchezz

    When no one is looking, I scratch my butt... Finger directly on butt, scratching, not through underwear... Directly on butthole... Then I sniff it. ::::SNIFFFFF:::: Mmmmmm...

    April 14, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • DirtySanchezz


      April 14, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • DirtySanchezz

      justa...little...taste.... MMMMMMMMMMMM

      April 14, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • DirtySanchezz

      Purposely brush my "finger-lickin-good" finger across the bottom of your nose so you can enjoy the sweet smell with me....MMMMMMMM

      April 14, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. OMG

    "A mysterious ailment is causing penguins to lose their feather" – yeah, it's called MANKIND!

    April 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cynos

    Um . . . There are no penguins living in the Gulf of Mexico. They do inhabit the extreme south Atlantic Ocean.

    April 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cynos

    Almost all the oil was cleaned up by naturally occurring bacteria. It's gone. Also, global warming is a myth. See Al Gore, and why his profits are soaring.

    April 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. K C

    "Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why."
    Don't know why?? Well here I was thinking it was pretty obvious!!! BP has "guilty" written all over them. What other plausible reason could there be?

    April 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Isaac

      True to the scientific method, the liberals are right once again!

      May 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      How much is "some oil" is it one drop....two drops....a gallon.........what. It helps to know these things.

      May 8, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. SadTruth

    What we don't realize is that there are corporations with ceo's sitting in their fancy offices, driving their fancy cars, who are at the top of these disasters. They have the finances to pay people to take their time in comming to conclusions as to the cause of these poor creatures and any other natural disaster they may be the cause of. They also have the power to fudge results so that we hear it is NOT due to oil spills or other man made issues.
    Fact of the matter is-is humans seized to exist, the planet earth would flourish without us. That in itself should make you understand the negative impact we have on this planet.

    April 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JCT

    So they found oil inside of dead dolphins in the gulf of Mexico and "scientists don't know why." Just how stupid are they? Or perhaps they are on the payroll of big corporations and don't dare call it like it is!

    April 21, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • habberdash

      That's what happens when politics flatten research budgets (as has been going on for 10 years now) and scientists have to find private funding sources. These private sources have agendas.

      May 5, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  8. mrmike

    Curious: All of this in the year following the BP spill. I wonder if there's a relationship here. Hmmm....

    April 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Wee Bit Scared Now

    The CNN story above says,"Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why."
    Seriously? They can't figure that one out? I always thought one plus one equals two...you know, like an oil spill in Gulf equals dolphins dying from (that) oil found in their stomachs. If scientists are having trouble with that one... then we are in way more trouble than I thought. To coin a phrase...Getting scared now!

    May 1, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. 14All41

    Hey SadTruth, if you REALLY think humans should "cease" to exist, then do us a favor and sell everything you have. Move to some remote jungle in South America, and die waiting for the animals to flourish.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
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