'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. Opinionated

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

    Ummmmm, maybe because they consumed the oil? Just a thought.....

    April 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. I Hate Dolphins

    I don't care about polluting oceans with oil or trash. My inside pool is much safer without dolphins and sharks swimming around. Why should I care when I live in a neighborhood with security guards and enough insurance to indemnify myself? You people make me sick. It's not my fault I was born into wealth and can buy anything I want. If you are poor, just work harder. Why should I pay for your lazy asses? If penguins cant handle oil or other unnatural occurances, then maybe its time for them to die. Not my problem...

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

      *looks at your profile name* I do hope you are joking. Because if you aren't you are acting highly ignorant and selfish. Please tell me you are joking.

      April 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • indoor1

      thank you for the post Charlie Sheen.

      April 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PsychRN in WI

    Even if you do not "buy" Global Warming or it's cousin Climate Change the danger to biological species that unfettered greed that exists is evident. We have higher rates of asthma, allergies, and babies born with cancer now that we allow hormones in our plastics, water, and food. There is a huge swell of plastic in the Pacific Ocean which is killing off krill, which penguins eat. I don't know the exact cause but the proof is in the pudding and the most likely answer is environmental contaminants.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Craig in LA

    Maybe it's Evolution. They could be changing into something else. Maybe they will shed their feathers and move to south Florida. Grow taller and get a tan.
    I know it's not a bird but a sea lion was beating it's head against the rocks on Malibu beach a few days ago. No one was allowed to do anything about it. Oh how we love our sea lions in California. There is definitely something in the water.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. DisgruntledGirl

    "Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why."
    Then they need to be fired. It's pretty obvious where the oil came from. Also boats still tend to leak oil. Dead dolphins have been routinely checked for oil since the mid 80's.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Correlation does not equal causation. The dolphins may have been found with oil on them, but that doesn't necessarily mean oil is the cause of death. Scientists aren't stupid, unlike the majority of idiots who post here. They may suspect a particular cause, but can no more pronounce it to be the cause unless they have evidence to prove it or to at least rule out most, if not all, other possible causes.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. RoseMcB

    I'm grateful to whomever made all the little wet suits so the poor penguins are protected without their feathers. Poor little things. They are so cute.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ?

    This is a plot by tv shows to start a new reality tv program called "penguin makeover" where the penguins get hair implants and other makeovers to make them cute again........I am sick of these plots. First unappealing women, then unappealing men, then brides, then teens, now animals!! come on.
    [btw, jk] I hope this issue gets solved.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • lee

      YOU ARE 1 DUMB PARASITE FOR SAYING SUCH A STATEMENT... U ARE THE PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE MORONS WE ALL HAVE TO TOLERATE AS WE JOURNEY THROUGH SPACE ON OUR WAY TO OBLIVIAN. YOU REAL FUNNY PARASITE. I SEE WHY U POST AS ?

      April 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lee

    THE HUMAN RACE IS NOTHING MORE THAN A PARASITE FEEDING OFF PLANET EARTH. THE SIGNS OF OUR IGNORANCE AND ARROGANCE OF THE DAMAGE THAT THE HUMAN RACE IS CAUSEING IS VERY APPARENT TO ME AND AS MOST OF US KNOW, WHEN THE HOST IS DEAD THE PARASITE DIES AS WELL. WE WERE PUT HERE TO TAKE CARE OF THIS PLANET , BUT INSTEAD WE HAVE USED IT AS OUR TOILET AND NOW ARE PAYING THE PRICE FOR OUR STUPIDITY...ERRATICATION OF THE HUMAN PARASITE IS THE ONLY WAY THIS PLANET CAN SURVIVE, SO GET OUT THERE PARASITES AND DRIVE YOUR GAS GUZZLERS TILL GAS IS 20 BUCKS A GALLON AND CONSUME EVERY THING IN YOUR PATH WITH ALL THE LUST AND GREED YOU CAN TILL THIS WORLD WE WERE BLESSED WITH IS DESTOYED...AND JUST KNOW YOU WERE THE CAUSE...LETS JUST GET IT OVER WITH.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • fishfry001

      Bingo!!

      April 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kathleen Wilson

    It doesn't take a Rocket Scientist to put 2 + 2 together! Ah, if we were covered with oil and had ingested black oil, do you think it would be harmful to our health? Really!?

    April 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Airwoman

    wow.. i like how dumb the comment is about the dolphins that died and had oil in them.. and they "dont know why"... ? werent we just fighting a huge oil spill... im just gonna a guess that, thats probably how the dolphins had oil in them and probably why they died.. how hard is that to figure out..

    April 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Gosh, Airwoman, you must be a genius. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps the scientists know a little more about dolphins than, oh, some dumbazz like you? Maybe the amount of oil found during the necropsies (look it up in your picture dictionary, stupid) didn't show amounts of oil that were sufficient to have caused death. Perhaps the same level of oil has been found in dolphins that have been examined, but it has caused no problem for those dolphins, leading the scientists to think that something else might be the cause.

      People like you should really just stick to p0rn and not bother reading anything at all.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • 321

      Well, Tom-Tom, let's do a little study and put increasing amounts of oil in your drinking water to see what happens. And if those scientists know so much and I would assume have a lot of technology and past knowledge to work with, how is it possible that they simply "don't know why"? The point is that this article is very base and is obviously not telling the whole story, which only allows humans to dodge all of the blame for our actions because we supposedly can't figure out what kind of effects our actions have. That's b.s. and if you don't know it and don't want to see it, you're exactly the type of person this article was written for.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And of course an imbecile like you would believe that would be a truly scientific method of proving a cause of death in these dolphins, wouldn't you? What a maroon.

      April 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • fishfry001

      @Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son: There's an old saying...no, actually it's a truism (you know the difference, right? You seem like an über-intelligent guy) – If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck and you don't need a phalanx of scientists to tell you something that's painfully obvious. Your arrogance is showing in spades.

      April 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. 321

    This article is absolutely ridiculous. A better article would be one illuminating what the hell the scientists are out there measuring and studying and why they claim they can't figure these things out. We all need to take responsibility – evaluate our actions and CHANGE, evolve. If not for the damage we're causing to life on this planet, at least for humanity's sake. Because we will go down with them. 2012 is right.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Another numbskull speaks. Correlation does not equal causation. The dolphins may have been found with oil on them, but that doesn't necessarily mean oil is the cause of death. Scientists aren't stupid, unlike the majority of idiots who post here. They may suspect a particular cause, but can no more pronounce it to be the cause unless they have evidence to prove it or to at least rule out most, if not all, other possible causes.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Isn't Chicken Little 321 adorable? The only thing that's ridiculous here is you, dear. You seem to think that because something seems obvious to you, it MUST be that the scientists are just too dumb or dishonest to figure out the cause of death. You are beyond silly. The litigation pending against BP will REQUIRE that these deaths be thoroughly investigated and that proof of cause of death be shown.

    Really, 2012? What a hysterical ninny.

    April 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. fishfry001

    Without a doubt the cause of the disorder is man's trashing of the natural environment. We are but an arrogant parasite upon the earth, responsible for more extinctions of plants and animals than one could ever imagine.

    April 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      While that is likely true, it does NOTHING to answer the question. Of course! Why would it, when an idiot like you is pontificating?

      April 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Heavyarms

    2011?

    April 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Zrebe

    Try Pollution............! You have no idea how Bad it really is..........Al Gore's Global Warming Spoof, Just another hick from Tennessee, got nothing to do with it......!

    April 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
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