'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. banasy

    Oops, sorry I misspelled your name, Herbert!

    April 8, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. raven

    Doin a-ok, sooo relieved for our soldiers that they dont hafta worry bout gettin paid. they have enough to worry bout. gotta get my passport tho so im kinda wonderin how thats gonna go down .

    April 8, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Y2K34207

      Essential services will continue to operate. Our troops will still get paid,
      and air traffic controllers will still have a warm place to sleep ...

      April 9, 2011 at 3:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. raven

    Yeah but I think adaptations a lil more gradual than they have time for .poor things. penguins are just so dang cute .

    April 8, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dibbels

    the AHA is going to come out and say that penguins need to eat more fruits and vegetables.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  5. Curt

    Maybe they are more sensitive to radiation.. LOL

    April 9, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. raven

    Ouch!! Do I even HAVE a butt left or is it chewed down to nothing ?

    April 9, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. banasy

    @raven: I agree with you about our military...and my hubs is in the same situation with his passport. Hoping that it all works out for him, and for you as well. And ignore the butt-chewers. Everybody else does! 😉

    April 9, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sheisugly

    Well, damn tuxedo-wearing birds ... guess the economy is being hard on them 🙁

    On a more serious note, hopefully they make it out through this!

    April 9, 2011 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. Hilo, HI

    WOW, the assault on Nature is relentless.
    How sad for these beautiful creatures.
    Who's gonna wanna be the Last Man Standing in a wasteland?

    April 9, 2011 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. cgfx

    it's called oil and nuclear waste the penguins are going through Chemo therapy losing there feathers

    April 9, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Hilo, HI

    "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." -and nightmarish too.
    I encourage every one to GET INVOLVED in environmental, human rights and animal rights activism. Our very survival depends on it.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. Hilo, HI

    'Hope' alone won't be enough. We need to become activists on behalf of these animals and our environment.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Hilo, HI

      reply to: sheis.... (above)

      April 9, 2011 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      Yes we do. We need to find those responsible. We need to find them where they sleep. We need to make them pay.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. ushkaphotography

    Let's dump some more nuclear waste, oil, garbage, toxic pollutants, fertilizers, drugs, sewage, chemical plant runoffs, and a thousand other deadly things in the water of the living oceans and pretend that they are big enough to absorb it all without a hiccup. ITs not like we swim in them, eat fish from them, or pay ridiculous amounts to have a view of them or just to be close to them. THey are the beginning of all life on this planet, more mysterious than unexplored planets, and are this planets lifeblood. who needs them ?

    April 9, 2011 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. joewilson

    kill the penguin. plain and simple.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. Cass

    I love how everyone on here blames the scientists or the government, it just shows how ignorant you all really are.
    You talk about pollution and the need to put chemicals into the air in order to combat the effects of pollutants we put in the air. Keyword, we. We as humans drive around in machines that spew carbon dioxide and other harmful chemicals into the environment, yet go ahead and blame the scientists because they are easy targets. Scientists are working around the clock to make sure we don't destroy the Earth more, yet we still blame them.
    The government is the other issue I have with all of these comments. You guys blame the government, but who elected the government officials? You people. You guys elected these idiots without looking into backgrounds to make sure there is no fraud on their record. You guys stumble into a voting booth, and put down a person's name when you truly don't know what they are bringing to the table. Ask questions. Get answers. Maybe then, and just maybe, we can attempt to turn around our screwed up world.
    Oh yeah, and before you say "Hey, you vote too!"...no. I have one more year until I am legally an adult and allowed to vote.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      hippy minor... lol

      April 9, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      You sir are a moron. You STILL think we actually vote? I'm sure you would believe global warming is fake if a politician said so. Get with the times.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Cass

      Me, believing global warming? No. Al Gore is an idiot. Did you know that if you pan out of his little famous graph, that the carbon dioxide on the earth has fluctuated just like it is today many times in the past? Of course, I believe humans are mainly responsible, but it is also impossible to know if factors in nature are also causing increased levels in carbon dioxide.
      And hippy, far from it. A person that doesn't swallow what the media and press throws out there and accept it, yes. People slander articles and state their opinions, but it is only a matter of time before it is said so many times, that you just accept it.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      "A person that doesn't swallow what the media and press throws out there and accept it" GASP!!! You mean that main stream media isn't always honest and accurate?!?!? But the girls on FOX News are soo pretty. They can't possibly be lying to us!

      Cass, I love you. Don't let the haters detract you from your beliefs and opinions. You are a rare breed of human that is unique in a world that is often lacking. Grow to be strong in your ideals and lead us out of the darkness that is surrounding us. (No sarcasm. I believe what I just wrote. Good luck)

      April 10, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
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