Harry. Learning from Loss

Harry, a male Magellanic penguin, was banded as an adult in 1984. We followed Harry throughout his adult life. He occupied the same nest each season between 1992 and 1995. He switched nests in the following years, never moving far, and returned to his original nest in 1999 and 2000. Harry had several mates, but had the same mate from 1991 to 1995. Over the years Harry bred 16 times and successfully raised seven chicks.

On October 10th, 2000 we gave Harry a satellite tag to track his movements at sea. We picked Harry because he was reliable and stayed in the same area so we knew we had a good chance of finding him when he was on land. We checked Harry’s nest every day, so we knew a lot about Harry before we gave him a satellite tag. Harry was in good condition but hungry when his mate returned to incubate the eggs on November 24th. We received his last satellite transmission 11 days later on December 5th. Harry died at sea and we know this because his satellite tag showed his drift out to see. We could not recover his body to perform a necropsy but suspect he died as a result of a toxic algal bloom that killed 8 other penguins that had satellite tags and approximately 3,400 other penguins.

Unfortunately, Harry was not the only penguin lost in 2000 as more than 3,400 penguins and many other seabirds washed up dead on the beaches of Argentina between October and December. The harmful algal bloom that struck Argentina in 2000 is known as a “red tide” due to the color of the species of dinoflagellates that make up the bloom. Toxins from dinoflagellates are absorbed by shellfish and other filter-feeders and accumulate as they move up the food chain, eventually affecting the penguins foraging on small fish and invertebrates, such as anchovy and squid.

Harry and other penguins that die from toxic algal blooms show us the need to invest in research on the causes of such blooms, the areas most affected, and what we can do to help prevent them.

To learn more about how toxic algal blooms affect marine birds read “Marine birds and harmful algal blooms: sporadic victims or under-reported events?”

Comments are closed