Curriculum areas: ICT, Electronics, Science and Statistics
Some penguin identification methods
Holes in feet
In the 1930’s the most reliable method of identifying penguins considered was punching holes in the penguin’s feet.
These are microchips (similar to those fitted to dogs) that are implanted in the penguins. The transponder is a tiny cylinder of glass containing a microchip with a unique electronic identifying number. Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID) transmits the identity of the penguin wirelessly, using radio waves (much like a barcode is read at the supermarket). It is useless on its own but needs three other components (reader, computer and software) to work together to collect useful data.
A dot is tattooed on the penguin’s feet to show it has a transponder.
The bands are made from a thin strip of stainless steel, punched with a 4 or 5-digit number and closed firmly on the right flipper with a pair of pliers. They are common and allow visual identification.
The small devices are glued onto the back of the penguins. Satellites pass overhead providing the penguins’ locations
These are self-piercing, numbered, small-animal ear tags attached to the outer webbing (between the middle and outside toes) of the left foot.
Because of their small size, web tags cannot be read from a distance and penguins have to be captured to read the tags.
While data loggers do not primarily provide identification they can be used to find out where penguins forage, migrate, where they dive and how deep.
Data loggers differ from transponders as they do not transmit but store information. These loggers have to be retrieved from the penguins to download the data to a computer.
Click here for a worksheet on the pros and cons of each of these five methods of identification.
More electronics – Data Loggers
The information helps us learn more about penguin’s habits at sea. They record where the penguin forages and their diving depths.
This helps identify where and when birds might be exposed to threats such as oil pollution, chemical contamination, fishery by-catch, hunting, and disturbance from boats.
This is a ‘map’ of travel where the penguins appear to use underwater landmarks to guide them to the best foraging areas (Thomas Mattern) – click on it for a larger version.
Using the data: Moving the oil tanker lanes in Argentina.
Penguins are particularly vulnerable to petroleum spills because they swim low in the water, must surface regularly to breathe, do not fly, are less able to detect and avoid petroleum than other seabirds, and sometimes encounter discharges of petroleum when they are at sea.
Magellanic penguins from the coast of Argentina were being found covered in black oil by researchers. The researchers had glued satellite transmitters on some of the penguins to track where their fishing routes were. When the oil company were shown the penguin’s routes, they moved the oil tanker lanes further out to sea.
How do you think data from satellite transmitters could help yellow-eyed penguins in New Zealand?
- How could you check penguins without touching them, from a distance?
- What identification will not interfere with the fine-tuned hydrodynamic shape of penguins and cause increased energy expenditure during swimming?
- What would last as long as the penguin?
- The pros and cons of being visible in case of recoveries by the general public
Other examples of endangered bird ICT, Electronics, Science and Statistics: Kakapo chick watch
Methods used by the kakapo breeding programme on Codfish Island are described by Canadian vet Andrew Greenwood, as:
“The most astonishing operation I have ever seen. The biologists move into a routine which resembles a cross between an SAS close protection squad and a premature baby unit.”
Spot the variety and number of technological artefacts, systems and environments involved in this description of nest management:
A camp is established 50 metres from the nest, which is usually in a hole under a fallen tree and whose site has been marked by a transmitter. While the female’s behaviour is constantly monitored by radio, a predator exclusion grid of rat traps and poisoned bait is set up extending out to 100 m. from the nest.
(…) A video camera system is set in the nest, using infra-red light, from which cables run back to the camp to a time-lapse recorder. The system is based on the technology of the video entry-phone. Nests are watched from dusk to dawn, which is when the females leave to feed. So when the nestminders arrive, they switch on the screen in the tent to check the nest. When the female leaves on a foraging trip, a beam triggers a bell in the tent. The screen is switched on and one minder watches for rats while the other makes for the nest and remains there on guard until the female, signaled by her transmitter, returns. If there is a rat-attack in the time it takes for the second minder to reach the nest, the first minder presses the ‘entry” button which remotely triggers a small detonator on the camera to frighten the rat! When the female is on the nest, the minders can rest until wakened by the “door-bell” as she leaves again.
The battery powered time-lapse recorder runs continuously and tapes are taken back to base for analysis and detailed record keeping over breakfast.
And this goes on all night, every night, through the entire nesting period.
Back at base, the nest controller is in touch with the minders by radio or mobile phone throughout the night to help with problems and decision-making (Greenwood, A., 1998).
What are some other electronic and ICT means of assisting the yellow-eyed penguins?
Two examples could be:
- A weighbridge to determine the weight of the penguins as they cross the device.
- Gate monitors to count the number of visitors to an area.