World’s Longest Emperor Penguin Dive Recorded
Scientists in Antarctica have recorded the world’s longest penguin dive, an astounding 32.2 minutes under the water, a full five minutes longer than the previous record.
Emperor penguins, which live only in Antarctica, are the tallest and heaviest penguins in the world, and have the best diving ability. They can dive as much as 500 metres down in some of the world’s harshest and coldest seas.
The record dive emerged after 20 emperor penguins were tagged with satellite transmitters in 2013, to better understand their foraging and diving patterns. The research was conducted by marine ecologist Dr Kim Goetz from New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Dr Gerald Kooyman from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Dr Brigitte McDonald from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. Their findings have been published in the Journal of Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Although Goetz and her team were aiming to study the behaviours of breeding penguins, they tagged the wrong birds, tracking 20 non-breeding birds that spent most of the next year hunting in the remote eastern Ross Sea; usually a challenging environment for scientists to study animal behaviour, due to its distance from human bases.
Goetz and her team discovered that emperor penguins travel and dive further than anyone thought possible; travelling distances between 273km and nearly 9000km in the study period, and conducting dives that lasted between one and 32.2 minutes.
Before the team’s findings the longest recorded emperor penguin dive was 27.6 minutes, which is “impressive” and mysterious, said Goetz, given emperor penguins’ physiology suggest they should be capable of comfortably diving for periods up to eight minutes; after which they run out of oxygen and their anaerobic system kicks in, placing a significant strain on the body and requiring a longer recovery time.
“What we don’t know at this point is if it’s becoming harder [for them] to find food and they have to dive deeper, or for some reason they are veering off course and they can’t find an ice hole, and if they can’t find an ice hole, they can’t come up to breathe,” Goetz said.
“But if an animal is going deeper and expending itself and using all its oxygen to get down there, it is usually because it is worth it.”
Original article by Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Guardian, April 26, 2018.
Photo by Kim Goetz.