'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. lee

    PIPERS SON U HAVE THE TYPICAL PARASITE POINT OF VIEW AND NO COMMON SENSE ... IT DOSENT TAKE A SCIENTIST TO KNOW WE JUST HAD THE BIGGEST OIL SPILL IN HUMAN HISTORY JUST A YEAR AGO AND NOW WE ARE SUFFERING THE AFFECTS A YEAR LATER.. PLUS ALL THE FILTH AND POLLUTION THAT IS BEING DISCHARGED INTO OUR RIVERS AND OCEANS BY ALL THOSE PARASITES LIVING IN THEIR BIG LUXURIOUS HIGH RISE BUILDINGS OBLIVIOUS TO THE DAMAGE THEY ARE CAUSING.WE NEED TO START SPENDING MONEY TO CLEAN UP THE WORLD RIGHT NOW, INSTEAD OF SPENDING IT TO FIGURE OUT WHATS CAUSING THE PROBLEM, WHEN ITS SO APPARENT TO THE PEOPLE WHO ARE IN TUNE WITH THE PLANET... YOU 1 BONE HEADED PARASITE. JUST SIT BACK TOM TOM AND ENJOY YOUR CUP OF CRUDE AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR FELLIN IN A FEW MINUTES

    April 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kat

    So Sad

    April 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bbamm

    The scientists are not dumb. A certain concentration of oil must be reached in order to cause death. It's just like how not everyone who eats shellfish containing mercury is going to be killed by that mercury. In other words, correlation does not equal causation. However, I will not dispute that humans are responsible for the general decline of the planet, and I'm sure everyone here has made their contributions, myself included. But my question to all of you is, "What are you doing to fix it?"

    April 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Something

      Not all Dolphins died due to oil released by the Deep Horizon oil spill.
      Think before you type something. Those scientist are a lot smarter than you will ever be.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. ThreeBlindMice

    Hey Moe – Hey Larry -Calling doctor Howard doctor Finne doctor Howard – humans are the only species that does not listen to the planet

    April 9, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. quickie

    A mysterious ailment is causing penguins to lose their feathers. The condition is called feather-loss disorder.

    man, thats a good name.

    April 9, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Egide Habimana

    May be the birds are just evolving and they trying to adapt to new ecological change that our world is facing now and wich can cause mutation or natural selection in those birds' genes! All the ingredients of evolution are there: 1) Variation: pinguin without feathers. Pressure: Global warming, too much sun causing hit. 3) Time: over time these changes in genes can be seen (that's probably what we noticing right now on those pinguins)

    April 10, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Captain Heinsight

    Terrorism.

    April 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. pattybee

    and they don't know why.........DUH. We have so polluted our waters. It's alll downhill from here.

    April 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sunshine Girl*

    Don't know what's causing it? Try oil spills/medical waste/nuclear waste/garbage/non biodegradible plastics/toxic waste ect. Im sure ya'll get the picture. Don't need to be any sort of scientist to figure that one out. Sad but true.

    April 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Andreas Moser

    Penguins are cute.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. Cynical

    No, the scientists aren't stupid, they are being paid off. Pretty simple.

    April 11, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Name*Joanne O'Neill

    Another big heartbreak!!

    April 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. UOnlyGet1Warning

    It's chemicals, i.e. the surfactants used during the BP oil spill

    April 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. T. P.

    You lose hair from radiation you know.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Laura

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

    Hmmmm...scientists don't know why...hm – MAYBE ITS THE OIL THAT THEY INGESTED!!?

    April 13, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
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