'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. wake up

    Evolution + Global Warming = Penguins without feathers

    April 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • VL

      You do know that Democrats only made up the whole "Global Warming" scare, right? They even ADMITTED it.
      The Earth goes through phases, and right now we're probably in one. Also, can you really call 50 degree weather in a place used to 85 degrees in spring Global warming? I think not.

      April 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • PrettyBird

      VL, You might do a bit of scientific studying on global warming. Most or all of the planets in our Solar System are showing signs of Global Warming. Since no one is driving SUV's on Mars...it probably has less to do with the human population than has been reported. I agree with you about the Earth going through phases. Still...you have to know that warming in one part of the globe can cause changes of weather in other parts, sometimes having the opposite effect.

      April 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. minnie me

    Another sign of global warming due to man, yes. Very well said.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. minnie me

    Look at all that has happened: birds falling from the sky and fish washing washing up on shore , no wonder. What's next?

    April 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • eyeforgot

      Talking snakes.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Natures Way Of Telling You Somethings Wrong

      Raining frogs.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheEndIsNigh

      Republicans and Democrats agreeing.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Opinionated


      That....was funny!

      April 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      In the Catholic confessional the priest will confess his sins to the penitent.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Yossarian


    April 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. E. Laycox

    I think it's not just one thing. It's the oil and all the other chemicals we are dumping in to the environment and have been polluting for decades. Humans are wrecking their habitat. It does not suprise me. It saddens me but it does not surprise me. I hope they find a way to help them.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Enoch100


    April 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Natures Way Of Telling You Somethings Wrong

    Poor things are all stressed out.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. litenow

    I am very sad about this. Even the bees are dying, which are responsible for pollinating plants and keeping our food supply going. We are in for a long haul, and everyone needs to focus on making this world clean again, inside and out.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ST

    At the end, the article states that many dolphins have recently been found dead in the Gulf of Mexico, some with oil inside them. The scientists don't know why. In the next paragraph, it is mentioned that an oil spill sent millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico almost a year ago. We need smarter scientists working on this. How can the scientists not figure out how the oil got into the dolphins, they were probably swimming through pockets of crude oil and ingested some during feeding or consumed food that was contaminated with oil.
    Reading CNN articles makes me feel like a genius (even though I am not one). Oh well, at least CNN uses better grammar than most of the other news agencies. It is too bad the comments section on CNN tends to illustrate the type of country America is becoming. Who knew hate would replace baseball. I guess we needed a new pastime.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. LOL

    @RB Penguins (order Sphenisciformes, family Spheniscidae) are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, especially in Antarctica.–wikipedia
    It can be said that they can be found on every continent because any continent that might not have any penguins naturally do at least have zoo's with them.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JT

    Palestine should not be free! (I am thinking it should be at least 100 dollars an acre)

    April 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ST

    I believe man is entirely to blame for this. Instead of insulting each other or ignoring the facts, we should try to find a way to make our home (Earth) healthy for us and everything else that lives on it. We need to be taking this feather loss seriously. They used to use canaries to make sure the air in mines was safe because birds are very sensitive. They get sick before we do. Lets not wait until our children start getting sick before we act on this. (yes, I know our kids aren't swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, but the planet is a closed system in which all parts are interconnected)

    April 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee Oates

      Well said. People should pause and think about it being a "closed" system and what that means.

      April 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lee Oates

    The story of the earth's degradation will continue, speeding up with time until we reach a critical point of no return. Some scientist feel that we have already passed that point, that the damage to the planet is beyond repair. Massive pollution of the land, seas, and air is occurring at an every increasing rate by the human species. The animal die-backs of birds, mammals, and fish, are just the warning shots, they will continue to die in ever increasing numbers. As usual we will try to explain it away, minimize the damage, and put profits before life until the ecological system collapses followed by our own extinction.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Klaark

    We've been using the ocean as a toilet for a long time. Same with the dolphins in the gulf...somehow scientists remain baffled, either that or they're paid to be baffled by the big corporations who see the ocean and think "garbage dump."

    April 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Conservative Retard Response

    This is simply evolution these penguins don't need their feathers so they are shedding or not growing them. Oh wait we don't believe in evolution, ah it must be some natural thing that has nothing to do with oil, radiation, plastic or chemicals it just must be because we all know that birds love plastic, chemicals, oil and radiation so stop the greenies.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
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