'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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Filed under: Animals
soundoff (273 Responses)
  1. raven

    Yeah we all know oil is harmless to marine life, right ?

    April 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Loni

      NOAA is on BP's payroll, too.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Oh My!

      @Wzrd1 –

      1. Just in case you haven't looked at a globe recently, all the oceans are connected. So, yes. Something that happens in one ocean will, indeed, show up far away in another. (And, yes, the Gulf of Mexico is part of an ocean.) For example, if you pee in the shallow end of the pool, it will eventually end up in the deep end. Not magic.

      2. You meant "affect" not "effect". Dictionary.

      3. Your "logic" about weather effects (proper use of the word) on Jupiter is...well...flawed to say the very least. It makes no sense. None. (Also, please consider the vacuum of space between Earth and Jupiter.)

      4. The laws of physics do, indeed, affect (again, note use of the word) the Earth (please see point 1).

      April 9, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Hilo, HI

      fyi WZRD1 is a SOCK PUPPET (HB Gary Persona Program)

      April 9, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • veggiedude

      I guess its too warm for them. Al Gore was right.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Y2K34207

      "Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why."
      Did they forget about the oil spill in the gulf? lDlOTS ! ! !

      April 9, 2011 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
    • RekoJ1944

      @Y2K34207 read the next paragraph genius

      April 9, 2011 at 3:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Astro Eng

      Actually Oh My, Wzrd1 is right, because up the currents and the circulations in the oceans and atmosphere what happens in the northern hemisphere stays in the northern hemisphere and what happens in the south stays in the south. Now if an event occurs at the equator it could be spread to both. Second even if the oil from the gulf coast oil spill somehow got distributed to Antarctica by then it would be so diluted with water that it would actually be less than the oil concentrations that naturally seep out of the ground into the oceans. So maybe you should go back to school before you pretend to have any knowledge of how the planet works.

      April 9, 2011 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
    • saresudog

      And one more thing nobody touched on Wzrd1. Where in the story does it state that these are "Antarctic" penguins? Judging from your apparent lack of intelligence I could see why you aren't educated enough to realize that penguins don't just reside in Antarctica. Welcome to the new Idiocracy that you are so much a part of and contributor to.

      April 9, 2011 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      Oh My!..... sigh... liberals...

      Did you really just compare the gulf spill to peeing in the shallow end of the pool? You may in fact be an English major but you certainly aren't a Math major... Use a little common sense before you bash other people. Tool.

      Average Urine – 24 oz (.1875 gallons)
      Average Pool – 20,000 gallons
      Percentage – 0.000009375%

      Golf Oil Spill – 94,000,000 to 184,000,000 gallons (94 to 184 million gallons) (Actual number unknown)
      Gulf Oil Captured/Recovered – 19,995,000 gallons (Actual number known)
      Gulf Oil Impact – 74,005,000 to 164,005,000 gallons
      Ocean Content – 343,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons (343 quintillion gallons est.)
      Percentage – 2.157% to 4.781%

      As you may have noticed... Bit of a difference. Roughly 2 million times worse, but the above numbers doesn’t include the amount of oil that was cleaned up or the amount of oil that was “chemically dispersed” or “chemically destroyed”. Should you include these numbers:

      Golf Oil Spill – 94,000,000 to 184,000,000 gallons (94 to 184 million gallons) (Actual number unknown)
      Gulf Oil Captured/Recovered – 19,995,000 gallons (Actual number known)
      Gulf Oil Dispersed/Destroyed – 40% to 75% (Actual numbers unknown)
      Gulf Oil Impact (40%) – 56,400,000 to 110,400,000 gallons
      Golf Oil Impact (75%) – 23,500,000 to 46,000,000 gallons
      Ocean Content – 343,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons (343 quintillion gallons est.)
      Percentage – 1.341% to 3.219%

      No one knows how the severity of the EFFECTS of the oil spill will AFFECT the wildlife but everything that I can find says that a northern hemisphere environmental issue, due in part to the gulf stream, can NOT cause EFFECTS to the southern hemisphere. Physically impossible. THE LAWS OF PHYSICS demand that an item can not be in two places at once, although we are disproving that with various sub atomic particles they can be.

      So how do you explain you supposition that an oil spill 7000 miles from the northern most tip of Antarctica can AFFECT feather loss? Now if the polar bears started going around naked…. Or the Eskimo’s… Actually, I think I’d prefer the bears.

      Also, please keep in mind that it is estimated that 180,000,000 gallons of oil “seeps” into the global oceans each year. Granted this occurs over the entire period of the year and the Gulf spill happened within 2 months, you will notice that the Gulf spill actual Impact amount is considerably less than a yearly natural occurrence.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      I really hate name callers... saresudog

      You can find penguins in every continent, however all known species of penguins live in the southern hemisphere.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • chuck

      Did I really read the last part of this sentence correctly?

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

      April 9, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • saresudog

      Hey Benny, where's the name calling that you speak of? Hilarious and hypocritical considering your first comment does involve name calling.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      As pointed out below, my math was off, due in part to rediqulously small numbers... Might say I forgot to carry the 1... or the .00000000001...

      "Dave Lively-164,000,000 / 343,000,000,000,000,000,000 = 4.78E-13 = .0000000000478% NOT 4.78%"

      April 9, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      You're right saresudog. In fact, I was attempting to be "Hilarious and hypocritical" especially "considering (my) first comment" but due to "your apparent lack of intelligence I could see why you aren't educated enough to realize" the irony of the statement. I don't mean to use your own well placed words but "Welcome to the new Idiocracy that you are so much a part of and contributor to".

      (did I use cut & paste too much?)

      April 9, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Owl96

      Wzrd1, they never said there was a link to the BP oil spill in the gulf. They only said there was more of an awareness of the plight of sea life after the BP spill. No link, this is a separate issue.

      April 9, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • thinkitthu

      To imply (as many above have done with their flawed arguments and pointless calculations) that the only way an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would have any impact on the Southern Hemisphere is via water and air currents is simply asinine.

      You simply can NOT ignore the biologic aspects of ecosystems when considering dispersion of a pollutant.

      Example (dumbed down as much as possible): Animals eat polluted animals in Gulf of Mexico. Said animals swim across the equator. Those animals are then eaten by animals in the Southern Hemisphere. Poof.. "magic."

      I'm not implying that oil is the cause of the feather-loss (I very much doubt that it is). I just read the arguments above and was extremely frustrated that people are willing to present such invalid arguments backed up with flawed computations.

      April 9, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • supreme

      NOAA is not on BP's payroll. They are one of the few organizations that are very legit.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
    • mark o. worrell

      thyroid problems could relate to the tons of nuclear waste we have already dumped in the sea for years upon years.

      the theory is, if we can't see it, even though it will kill us for tens of thousands of years, maybe it isn't there any longer .

      that's the intelligence of those in charge.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • dean

      These articles all mention oil as the possible culprit in the extraordinary numbers of dolphin deaths, but no mention of dispersants–the poison BP pumped into the Gulf to try to hide the oil.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      I'm sure the radiation is harmless too.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • saresudog

      Benny, it must be so horrible to have to go through life with such low self esteem that you have to be so hateful to others in order to make yourself feel better. Narcissistic much? Peace and love to you

      April 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. raven

    It would make more sense to say the penguins were perplexed by naked scientists . Nothing perplexing about oil killing wildlife. tragic maybe,perplexing no .

    April 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • RekoJ1944

      oil has never caused a lack of feathers b4 so how is it now?? it may kill but dats not da point

      April 9, 2011 at 3:32 am | Report abuse |
    • KDW31

      I kind of wish the article had stayed on topic as opposed to discussing so many marine deaths, since some people appear confused. The beginning of the article clearly stated that the feather loss condition has been around for years and made no mention of oil or pollution as a cause. From the article "possible culprits include genetics, nutrient imbalances, thyroid disorders or pathogens." That said oil is obviously a concern for the other penguin species mentioned, though feather loss was not given as a concern.

      April 9, 2011 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. Elvira

    Want to get rid of the fish tank. My lonely fish won't die. Grrrr!!!

    April 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris124

      Yeah.. because penguins and dolphins = fish. Go back to school.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • kerryrebal

      can my cat meet your fish? problem solved

      April 9, 2011 at 4:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Pour in some oil.. Duh Winning Bye Bye fishees

      April 9, 2011 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. just prophesying

    We're in the "last days" and it's only going to get worse!

    April 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heavyarms

      penguins loosing their feathers is–proof of Jesus' second coming?...

      April 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      1) We survived the Black Plague that wiped nearly the entire population of Europe
      2) We survived both World War 1 and 2

      And you think penguin is the sign that the last day is coming?

      April 8, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Paulie

      If we're so close how about you send me your cash, you won't need it when your zombie jesus returns right?

      April 8, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • 2little2late

      90% or more of the species that walked swam and crawled the earth are alrady extinct. Nothing lasts forever, not even Penguins.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
    • TooTrue

      You are absolutely right! By the way, with the end coming and all, can I have your stereo? Heck, you won't need your house or car either. I'll take care of those pesky worldly possessions for ya.

      April 9, 2011 at 3:04 am | Report abuse |
    • 3N1Amen

      You're right. Look for His coming!! 🙂

      April 9, 2011 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
    • mirina&d&a

      i agree; ignorance and arogance will blind thoes who choose to be judgemental, it doesn't change the facts..

      April 9, 2011 at 4:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnyrr

      btw – on your way to armageddon, don't forget to give tax breaks to the richest 1% and while your at it, destroy the EPA – I mean who cares of our air and water become unbearably toxic, when the "man" comes back he'll make it alright. Especially for his rich buddies.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • S1N

      I'll take the deed to your house. You can even live there until December 2012, when the world ends. You won't need it after that, right?

      April 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Wendy

    I don't understand why the scientists are baffled - just look at the CHEMTRAILS in the sky all over the planet.
    That's what is slowly killing all the wildlife, people, and trees (our oxygen on the planet!)!! People need to wake up and realize that the purposeful aerosol spraying of aluminum, barium, and other chemicals by our own government is causing all these illnesses! Go to http://www.aircrap.org.

    April 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Captain Obvious

      http://www.fullofcrap.dum

      April 9, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Babar

      Not to mention second-hand smoke! And excessive sugar consumption. And incandescent bulbs.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
    • RekoJ1944

      tweekers like prince agree completely

      April 9, 2011 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Morgan Painter

      Why would the people in control of causing Chemtrails poison the air they breathe too?

      Do you believe they have some inoculation that protects them but is not available to the lowly people?

      April 9, 2011 at 3:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      That webpage makes me puke. It could at least organize itself before posting blatant lies and bullcrap.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • S1N

      The REAL reason for penguin feather loss is teacher tenure. If we dismantled school employee unions, the penguins would be saved!

      Dunno, makes about as much sense as some of the other crackpot conspiracy theories on here.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Heavyarms

    .... you had me at "naked"....

    April 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miznatch

      haha. like

      April 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Herbert

    @Elvira: Why don't you hire a hit man from Detroit to kill your fish? Grrrr!

    April 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • JayZ

      Everyone knows theres no work in Detroit nowadays.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. CoMike

    The oil itself is a minor issue. The problem stems from all the chemicals thrown on top of the oil to try to hide it from public view. Just look up the physical side effects of chemical dispersants used to break up oil spills. It explains many of these problems.

    April 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Herbert

    @CoMike: CoTrue

    April 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Herbert

    @banasy, Jazz, and raven. Where are my 3 girls???

    April 8, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joey

    How much jazz is all that?
    Is JAZZ a girl?
    Wha?

    April 8, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joey

    How naif am I?

    April 8, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazzzzzzzz

      your not naive, I just wanted more than you could give. Didn't you for someone else, he is just a friend in my eyes. Getting to know someone means just that, not 1 phone call a week and some blogging while texting me . That's not normal and that's not enough for me.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. just prophesying

    @ Heavyarms...No, dear. Just one more thing among hundreds of things happening on our planet that is indeed "setting the stage."

    April 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. raven

    Hey Philip! And Joey.and Herbert !! Hope you all are well .and CoMike ,while I agree that dispersants are a problem, it doesnt minimise the toll oil itself takes. I dont think the oil is a minor issue or there wouldnt be a need for dispersants .Neither belongs in the ocean.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jimbo

    Bats are dying, honey bees are dying, now penquins are naked, coral reefs are stressed or dead, rivers and the oceans are polluted and that is the good news. The bad news... the politicians that run the planet preach growth. Gotta have that growth or the global economy won't be healthy.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      And now the republicans want to lift the clean air act. We will soon be dropping like flies.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Babar

      @Scottish Mama: Oh, no! You mean FLIES are dying too?

      April 9, 2011 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
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