'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. Mismanagement - Earth no longer in the Federation of Planets

    The real information is in the link to the Wildlife Conservation Society at the top of the article. This appears to be a poor summary of that article. I expect you will find this article to be more properly to journalist standards of old. http://www.wcs.org/press/press-releases/featherless-penguins.aspx

    April 9, 2011 at 6:54 am | Report abuse |
    • DHops

      Thank you Mismanagement for sharing the basis of the article. It reminded me of a time when people actually made the effort to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a story before they attempted to discuss the political, economic, and moral implications of the event.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mismanagement - Earth no longer in the Federation of Planets

    Not to minimize the BP oil spill at all, but this started way before that:
    "The feather-loss disorder first emerged in Cape Town, South Africa in 2006, when researchers for the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) first observed the disorder in African (or black-footed) penguins in a rehabilitation center" -extract from WCS article.

    April 9, 2011 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
    • KDW31

      Yeah I'm trying to figure out how everyone posting that the penguin feather loss has something to do with BP, when one of the first sentences states this has been happening for years. I think the writers of the article gave to much credit to the reading skills of the general population when they decided to discuss more than one case of unusual animal conditions. I'm sure the BP oil spill may be related to the dolphin deaths, though I think those also have been occurring prior to the spill, so still debatable as to cause.

      April 9, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff

    "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 ! ! !"

    No they aren't idiots...If you read that article, you would have noticed that the Dolphins were turning up dead months BEFORE the Gulf disaster.

    April 9, 2011 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Michael63

    For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or as God puts it, Galatians 6:7 "Be not decieved, God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

    April 9, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Big~Tuna

    ....it is too early for reborn wackjobs..........

    April 9, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. cici

    um..cause we have posioned their world...no brainer!!

    April 9, 2011 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. chieatfetus

    DUH...it's because of all the cr*p the corrupt (like BP) have done to the ocean who just want to find other excuses as a coverup to maintain their own selfish interests, for example:how about the oil spill and the stuff they used to "make it go away"? (which apparently had a toxic secret ingrediant and/or was supposed to be banned)

    April 9, 2011 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. ntv

    This is so sad. I'm glad there are people on this Earth able to help them. Damn oil spill.

    April 9, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. timbo

    human over population.... thank god for wars...

    April 9, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. timbo

    and the GOP

    April 9, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mandy

    "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 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. Tony the Prophet

    cnn why my blogs you blocking

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

      I ordered it Dirt breath

      April 9, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. j0nx

    I'm sure it's due to something we are doing. Humans are a plague on the planet. A pox.

    April 9, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. Dave Lively

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

    Before you criticize the mathematical abilities of others you might want to consider buying a calculator. You were off by a factor of 100 billion.

    April 9, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      lol.. sorry. Didn't go that far. My appologies.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      Also wasn't "criticize the mathematical abilities of others" but pointing out that there are too many people being critical in general as well as supplying some well needed perspective on things. We really are a small part of this world. Our actions effect the world, but do we really have the ability to destroy it?

      April 9, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. Al Mellen

    Does anyone remember the thousands of gallons of disperant that were used in the Gulf, the same disperant that was banned in the U.K. It was banned because of its toxicity. Thanks to our own government that let this stuff being used, even after the government said it must not be used. When the ocean life no longer lives, that will be the end of mankind. Day by day we are getting closer to that end, thanks to the politicians and big business.

    April 9, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      Al Mullen you are right! That's why I say we should should find out where the BP head honchos sleep along with the all of the politicians who accept BP money and MAKE them drink, breath, and sleep in their oil.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
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