'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. April

    "Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why."
    I am a scientist. I can tell you why, because there was "OIL INSIDE OF THEM".

    Those other "scientists" need to find a new career. LOL

    April 9, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. unumba10

    Very odd story to say the least!!!

    April 9, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. Infinity Dollar

    Benny, – @Wzrd1’s “peeing in the pool” scenario is an analogy, & if you look closely at your math you will see you proved him right: 0.000009375% ← is still pee.

    Astro Eng – “what happens in the northern hemisphere stays in the northern hemisphere and what happens in the south stays in the south” Astro Eng- Your completely wrong, see: http://aidhyl.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/thermohaline_circulation.jpg

    Saresudog – “Where in the story does it state that these are "Antarctic" penguins?”
    See: ‘Wildlife of Antarctica – Magellanic Penguins.’ (talk about, ‘apparent lack of intelligence’..) Jesus. “Welcome to the new Idiocracy’ is Totally right for you Saresudog

    Chuck: Your soo Right!

    Owl96 – “they never said there was a link to the BP oil spill in the gulf.”
    Dead Dolphins + Oil inside them + Gulf of Mexico + BP Oil Spill
    Think about it. Nobody ever said skull was connected to your brain either.
    But with deductive reasoning, scientist might not object.

    RekoJ1944 – “oil has never caused a lack of feathers b4 so how is it now??”
    The article does not blame the feather loss on oil. Read it again.

    KDW31 – Totally agree wit you, stay on topic, bad writing. The scientist never mentioned anything about the depleted Ozone layer, and connecting the feather loss to exposure and sun damage. Although they hinted at the fact that the birds without feathers are the ones who don’t seek shade during the heat of the day. . . Duh!!!! ← (to them not you.)

    Elvira – Try ‘Craigslist’ not CNN.

    Wendy – People are responsible for pollution, however we might not be responsible for global climate change. See: ‘Pole shift’ ‘Galactic Equator’

    Morgan Painter – “Why would the people in control of causing Chemtrails poison the air they breathe too?’ This article has some pretty good theories:

    jimbo, sandyk, Chris124, Shane, Herbert, Mmmmm, Hilo, Hi, cgfx, ushkaphotography , trufax, Mark, mary, etc. . . .
    To all of you, Bravo!

    Cass, Nobody was blaming the scientist. (except raven) I’ll let it go, but work on your reading comprehension.

    Trevor – .00000000000052% ← although small, is not NEGATIVE. . . see: ‘Real Numbers’

    Luckily Pee, unlike oil, is (currently) non-toxic, or we would all be dead.
    They might want to check the pee of the penguins for toxicity levels. lol Hair loss is a mammal is generally related to stress, more than caused by diseases, however diseases, and chemicals contributed to the bodies stresses that causes hair loss.

    & Yes, Saresudog, even though the article does not say so. . . Penguins are Mammals.

    April 9, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Cass

      I wasn't just talking about blaming the scientists...work on your reading comprehension s'il te plait.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      WOW! I thought I was opinionated!
      Pee = 0.000009375%
      Oil = 0.0000000000478%
      I believe you have missed a few zeros.
      I agree. Saresudog is a moron.
      "Luckily Pee, unlike oil, is (currently) non-toxic" Drink some and write back.
      Urine is not toxic. However, being a waste product, it does contain compounds undesirable to the body.
      I agree. Saresudog isn't a mammal.
      You complained about grammar, reading comprehension and the opinions of others. Please buy a mirror before you continue to pollute our environment with your presence.

      April 10, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. April

    Let me tell you there are two kind of scientists (I have worked with both). There are those that do everything above board and for the greater good, and those that have a hand up their rear and talk like puppets for whoever is calling the shots.
    The latter tend to be the ones you see in the media more than not and have a much larger payroll.
    The reality of it, is there is a war between nature and the economy of man. And scientists are dividing themselves. But in the end the world will get tired of it and most likely make it very clear that nature is in control and doesn't like what you are doing to it. EVERY action has a reaction. And some day there will be "come-up-ins";) Tread lightly my friends.

    April 9, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. scott acree

    They are getting ready for the big melt down.Globle warming.

    April 9, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. oldboldpilot

    just a thot from a chicken farmer from a long time ago. When those birds were put under stress, (usually denial of food,but could also be caused by overcrowding), they molted, i.e. lost most of their feathers spontaneously. this was one technique, (denial of food), to restore laying capacity to a flock whose output was flagging. Once the feathers regrew, the laying rate returned to normal. I never did understand the full physological reasons as to why this works, but maybe a zoologist or avian specialist out there in comment land can address this phenomonon vis-a-vis penquins. Some kind of reproductive response / adaptation?

    April 9, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. SheCallsMeCeezy

    I know it's already been brought up, but this seriously made my jaw drop. HELLO?!? Have they not been in civilization for the past year?? pretty sure the majority of Americans know about the BP oil spill... unless they have just walked around with their eyes closed... which seems to be a growing trend among people.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Killallthewhiteman

    Not that I don't care about cute featherless penguins, but it sickens me to know how much money is going to be spent on this when we have real dissorders to worry about.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Carol

    Could it be hormone imbalance that is causing the feather loss?

    April 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Thinks2011

    "Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why." This is probably one of the stupidest sentences I've seen in an article in a long time. The author should have written something like: While scientists suspect the deaths are a result of the oil spill, they are conducting tests to see if there are other causes. To be fair, it is possible some of the deaths are not the result of the spill just as it is possible that someone who was hit in the head with a 2×4 during a tornado was murdered or vice versa).

    April 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RB

    @Benny.... come on... surely you can do a little better with YOUR math.. a little logic is in order.. If the gulf oil spill was 1.3% to 3.2% of the total ocean water volume. it stands to reason the entire gulf of mexico would've essentially been a complete blackened sludge pit when the well was finally capped.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • bill

      I like math 🙂 The Deep horizon oil spill was 0.00000000006% of the total volume of water in the world's oceans.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat

      it was

      April 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • evoc

      Oil spills contaminate migrating sea life. Penguins eat that.

      April 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      sigh... as I've stated above.. As pointed out below, my math was off, due in part to rediqulously small numbers... Might say I forgot to carry the 1... or the .00000000001...

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

      April 10, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Logan


      April 15, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. RB

    @Benny... You can find penguins in every continent, however all known species of penguins live in the southern hemisphere... ??? What kind of statement is this... other than the words of clown!!

    April 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      Actually, clownish or not, it's straight from http://www.penguins-world.com/where-do-penguins-live.html

      tool. 😉

      April 10, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  13. Scurvydog

    NAKED PENGUIN PARTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Woo hooooooo.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • minnie me


      April 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • edub

      thanks for the chuckle, Scurvy, now walk the plank

      April 22, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cartec

    The irresponsibility of mankind is killing our planet. This is just another sign of gobal warming.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Krazy8

      Either that, or else the younger birds are involved in a moral decline of truly shocking proportions.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Dunno if this is global warming but I'm certain it's being caused by something humans did. Hats off to the marine scientists that don't know why dolphins are dying...... hmmmmm..... I wonder if anything happened there recently? Hmmmmm... dunno...... It amazes me how so much oil can be released in the ocean, underwater, mixed with toxic levels of dispersents and no one thinks it's going to do crap. The ocean is not toilet bowl, it's a complex web of organisms that begin at the celluar level. People are dumb, we are killing off this planet for money.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • US Army Vet

      Our atmosphere, oceans and rivers are nothing but dumping grounds for the human race, The almighty $$$ will always win. This makes me sick and there's really nothing we can do. It's the few of us against the powerful and the ignorant. The lunatics are in charge.

      If there were a god, I think he should anhilate the whole human race!

      April 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. minnie me

    They're cute little critters though.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
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