'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. sandyk

    Global Warming ; they dont need no stinkin` feathers!

    April 8, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris124

      LOL.. I was actually thinking, "They're probably hot". And I mean that in all seriousness... adapt or die, right?

      April 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Shane

    I noticed they left out chemicals and oil-spills as possibilities. Yeah, those are totally non-toxic chemicals we dump into the ocean. Yeah, we love our penguins so much we are giving them little wet-suits but we can't keep them from swimming in the toxic waste. Way to go!

    April 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Herbert

    @raven: Hey back at you. So true, oil in the sea is harmful to aquatic life and our food chain.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. just prophesying

    Go Jimbo!

    April 8, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mmmmm

    Hmmm, let's see, the poor birds look like cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy...is it the radioactive migratory fish they are eating? Or maybe the ocean isn't diluting the water but it travels to their habitat where the penquins have a personal spa of waterglow from j-pan? Maybe you should gieger counter the penquins?

    April 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Scottish Mama

    Naked penguins, dead birds, bees not pollinating, and dead dophins, no the water and the air is fine, It has been EPA cleared to the lethal limit.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hilo, HI

      right, we need some smarter scientists -the dolphin still births in the Gulf have then stumped too! -some smarter people in over all too(smart enough to do away with corporate nazis & puppet politicians) -and decent enough to cut back on the overbreeding...

      April 9, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  7. raven

    Yeah,let the people who are responsible walk around naked for a while and see how long they stay perplexed .bet theyd figure out real quick what the problem was and how to fix it . And Im all for drilling . just get frustrated at how no one wants to clean up and pay for the messes that happen .

    April 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mmmmm

    then again, for those up and coming bands looking for a name, try Naked Penquins!

    April 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. raven

    Yeah, or the Pink Tuxedoes. That sounds a lil naughty,dont it ?

    April 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Just a little gay.

      Not that there is anything wrong with that.

      How about the "Gay Penguins" instead.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cecil

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

    Germs? A real scientist would say bacteria or a pathogen. What kind of a stringer reporters are writing the science articles for CNN these days?

    April 8, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy

    Hi, Herber, Jazzzz, raven, Philip.

    April 8, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. raven

    Hey Jazzzz? I got something ta tell ya .

    April 8, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazzzzzzzz

      I;m sure you do , but I know already. I won't be posting any more. This whole blogging meeting ppl and ALL the HEADGAMES are NOT for me , who ever has been playing them , don't care. GOOD BYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

      April 9, 2011 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  13. raven

    banasy!ma sista!! hows every lil thing ?

    April 8, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. banasy

    raven! Doing finer than frog hair, hun! Ever seen a frog hair? No? That's because it's so fine. How are you, sista?

    April 8, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. raven

    Lol!! Too funny !Guess it does. I was thinkina Pink Torpedo by Spinal Tap.

    April 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
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