Friday, September 30, 2011

You can save penguins wherever you live with an iPhone App

It's funny the little memories that remain with you from childhood. I remember different toys I had, games I played and songs I listened to. One song I remember from my childhood was Don Spencer's "Fairy Penguin Strut". Putting my arms down straight, my hands out flat and shuffling around the lounge room in front of the television.

Penguins are fascinating animals. In my experience not everyone realizes that they are classified as birds. They have feathers, a beak and lay eggs as all birds do. Some species of penguin spend up to 75% of their time in water. Fiordland crested penguins sometimes grow barnacles on their tails, one clear indication that they are at sea for long periods. They are obviously faster in the water than on land they can swim about 24km/h (15mph). They have adapted over time to life in the water as their wings have become flipper like, their feathers are densely packed for insulation. They are one of the few birds to have solid, dense bones. This allows them to overcome buoyancy so they can dive to catch krill, squid and fish.

All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere in Antarctica, around the coast of South America, South Africa, Galapagos, Southern Australia and New Zealand. Therefore Coke got in wrong in their advert as penguins and polar bears won't meet since polar bears live in the Northern Hemisphere.

Volunteering as a guide at the Toronto Zoo for the last year also assured me that children, as well as adults, today are still fascinated by these cute aquatic birds as I was as a child. In 2011 Toronto Zoo open a 60,000 square feet enclosure with underwater viewing area to house their new 12 African Penguins (also known as Jackass Penguins). African Penguins, like others of the 17 species of penguin,  are endangered. The African Penguin's present population is probably less than 10% of that in 1900, when there was estimated to be about 1.5 million birds on Dassen Island alone. By 1956 the population had fallen to roughly half that in 1900, and had halved again by the late 1970s, when there was an estimated 220,000 adult birds. By the late 1980s the number had dropped to about 194,000 and in the early 1990s there was an estimated 179,000 adult birds. Breeding no longer occurs at 10 localities where it formerly occurred or has been suspected to occur. The good news is that populations are now 19% larger then they would have been if conservation efforts had not started.

Habitat destruction is one of the threats to these African Penguins and if you don't live in South Africa it's easy to feel that there is little you can do. However another major threat to penguin survival is over fishing within the habitat. Over fishing not only affects the African Penguin but also many of the species living in Antarctica. The Circumpolar Sea, what some call the Southern Ocean, has a long history of human over-exploitation. Fur seals, elephant seals, and the great whales were all hunted to the brink of extinction. Now commercial fishing is threatening the penguins and other wildlife in the area. A great documentary was sent to me to preview before it's release a couple of years ago and if you haven't seen it, hunt it down. The 2009 documentary called "End of the Line" follows a group of people around the world exploring exactly the state of fish populations are around the globe as well as the happenings of the fishing industry.

Supporting sustainable fishing is something we can do in every country.

There are different organisations that have released guides to help you recognise fish from populations that are well managed and sustainable and avoid supporting companies that are still over-fishing. You can download the guides or even better, there are applications available for iPhones that are easy to use when out doing your grocery shopping or at a restaurant

While living in Canada and the U.S.A I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium App called Seafood Watch. To find out more visit

For Australia, Greenpeace has a great canned tuna guide at
The app I use when home in Australia is the Seafood Guide from Australian Marine Conservation Society. Check out their site for other versions of the guide at

For all other countries click here to have the comprehensive list of available guides for many countries at the WWF Global site.

If you adore penguins as much as I do, then making sustainable seafood choices is one simple action you can take, in every country in the world to ensure their food supplies aren't diminished. That way your children and grandchildren will also get to witness the funny penguin strut.

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