'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. truefax

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

    Well, um.. MAYBE BECAUSE THERE WAS A OIL SPIL?!! Did you forget about BP?

    April 9, 2011 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. JOSS555

    Yes, consider all these as sign of nothing. Ignore it as a good ignorant would do………………….

    April 9, 2011 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. raven

    Huh ? Im bein sincere. I can understand why youd be leery. its kinda crazy and i dunno whos who here. trust me ok?please? i dont play games.promise.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. mark

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

    Ha I like how they dont say pollution and because of that you know who ever is doing the "RESEARCH" is worthless.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. mary

    Man made pollution~!
    Plain and simple..~!
    We are allowing corporations to absolutely decimate our earth. And every living thing on it..

    April 9, 2011 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. raven

    cass, youre right. the scientists arent to blame. thats true . i was kinda glib in my comments about them. But youre mistaken in the assumption that I dont vote or more importantly try to find out as much as I can about who i am or even who im not voting for . Our govt IS responsible for the laws regarding pollution and regulations pertaining to it. And just because a candidate makes promises before being elected doesnt mean he/she will keep them AFTER being elected.thats politics .if you arent old enough to vote you most likely dont have the life experience to be preaching about anyone else being ignorant. That said, you seem like a bright kid with a good head on your shoulders . I wish you a long,happy ,healthy life. Remember, You are our future.

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

      Oh no, my comment was more of a general declaration than anything. It is a proven fact that most voters are...well up there in age. It is the younger generation that sees something, likes it, and votes. I know that politicians don't have to keep their word, but if we don't like something they do, why don't we do something about it? The likeliness that they will do something about it is slim, but at least we are trying, which is what needs to be done. And I may not have the experience of voting under my belt, but I have studied the past elections, and everything the candidates brought to the table. And it's not just American history I have studied. I go to an international school, so I'm allowed the opportunity to get a global education and be informed. Even if I can't vote, I can still say what is right and wrong. And based on the definition of ignorance, I believe my presumption is correct. People are lacking knowledge overall about issues, and attack the closest person because they believe it is right.
      My generation will have to clean up the mess that our world is in, and hope we can do it in time before we completely destroy ourselves. But with the education budget, not only in my home state, but the United States, being cut, I don't believe there will be enough educated people to get the job done.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Just me

    Scientist don't know why. Let's see the marine life has oil in them. Fish, birds end up dead. They don't know why? Thyroid disease they don't know why. HMMM...probably between radiation contamination and oil spills we are killing our food chain. Doesn't take a scientist to figured that one out.

    April 9, 2011 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • CanadaCalling

      Thank you, finally, the most brilliant comment on here... you said it!! Doesn't take a scientist to figure out what is killing the animals.... duh... very well said! Good Lord, dolphins showing up with oil in their insides.... uh, let's see here, suppose they had the flu do you think? GEEEZZZZ!!!

      April 9, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. BarbaraSamburu

    We are certainly doing a great job or destroying our planet's wildlife. I am glad my age of expectancy will not see the total blight we caused.

    April 9, 2011 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. across110th

    It's called EVOLUTION. Dang.. what if a higher intelligence were around when we were evolving? They'd have considered the hair loss a friggin disease!

    April 9, 2011 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
    • CanadaCalling

      You call deliberate and stupid oil spills that poison innocent animals EVOLUTION? say what?? I disagree

      April 9, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      Ya genius. Its the oil spill. seems you are one of the stupid people that buy into media propaganda when everybody else knows it was BP. Grow a brain.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. buddylee7

    Another ENDTIME phenomena. Wake up people! God is trying to tell us something! Remember recent past events. Thousands of birds dying, earthquakes in various places, War among the nations of the Middle East. Disease of every kind. These things must take place right before Jesus returns. Not as meek and lowly, but as King of the Universe.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rfrman

    It is caused by second hand smoke.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
  12. Anne S.

    I remember my Dad telling me about him reading an article about the last days. He said the creatures of the sea would be dying off. We would start to be having shortages in other areas too. Also the water would be disappearing. I can't remember everything Dad told me, but this has been well over 15 yrs. ago that he read that article. It also says in the Bible that man will destroy himself. Well think we're doing a very good job of it.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:36 am | Report abuse |
    • eyeforgot

      Who wrote the article? Someone inspired by god no doubt.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. my2cents

    "Feather loss in pet birds has long been a common ailment seen by pet stores and private owners." I personally own birds and know that stress, diet and unsanitary conditions will cause feather loss. All the crap going into the oceans is causing stress and disease to the animals and it's just a matter of time before it hits us. I like to think of the world as a giant fishbowl and we are the fish. We are drinking the same nasty water that we eat, play and pee in except there is nobody there who wants to change the water. We are just swimming in our own filthy mess because we are too lazy to change or just don't care.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
  14. Dick Clark

    BP makes my penguin hurt, and now my penguins be naked. Pen15

    April 9, 2011 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. MellowYellow

    So ... They have skinny dipping partys too. Wonder if they pair off like we do?

    April 9, 2011 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
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