More Magellanic penguins winter off Brazil’s coast | Polarjournal
Magellanic penguins breed from about September to February/March on the coasts of Argentina and southern Chile and, as seen here, in the Falkland Islands. Photo: Dr. Michael Wenger

The beaches in Brazil’s Santos Bay are being monitored as part of the Petrobras (Petróleo Brasileiro) oil company’s PMP-BS environmental project to study the effects of oil production on sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds. In addition to registering dead and injured animals, with the latter being cared for in rehabilitation centres, biologists also monitor species such as the Magellanic penguin and count individuals. According to the report, 6,747 Magellanic penguins arrived on the Brazilian coast during this year’s migration period, more than last year.

Magellanic penguins spend the southern summer in their breeding grounds on the Falkland Islands, the coasts of Argentina and southern Chile. After the breeding season, they migrate north where they find more favorable conditions and more food. Thousands of them also arrive on the coast of Brazil every year, usually between June and November, registered as part of Petrobras’ PMP-BS beach monitoring project. As biologist Henrique Chupil, coordinator of the project, told Agência Brasil, the number of Magellanic penguins coming to Brazil varies depending on reproductive success. After 5,657 animals were counted last year, this year there is a 20 percent increase (6,747 individuals). The most animals were recorded in 2018 with 12,230 penguins between January and November.

The PMP-BS project monitors 1,500 kilometers of coastline. The number of Magellanic penguins arriving in Brazil varies from year to year. Photo: Nilson Coelho/Agência Petrobras

The Magellanic penguins arrive mainly in the states of Santa Catarina (4,741 animals) and Paraná (1,028 animals) in southern Brazil. But penguins have also been observed further north, on the beaches of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo. Some of the penguins, especially juveniles, are weakened due to food shortages or bad weather. These animals are then particularly vulnerable to further negative impacts such as disturbance by humans or the ingestion of marine litter. When weakened or injured animals arrive on the beaches, they are assessed by the project team and, if necessary, given veterinary care in rehabilitation centres and treated until they are released. According to PMP-BS, penguins are admitted to rehabilitation centers primarily for hyperthermia, dehydration and hypoglycemia.

When animals are found dead, a necropsy is performed to determine the cause of death and whether there was a connection to human activities such as fishing, ships, or oil production.

Denise Almeida, Petrobras’ biodiversity advisor, told Agência Brasil: “Penguin strandings usually occur from the coast of Espirito Santo to the south of the country and this number can vary from one year to another.” She added that the database being built by the project over the years “is extremely important, as it helps the scientific community to understand the peculiarities of marine biodiversity on our coast and thus help in its preservation.”

Magellanic penguins, which breed in the Falkland Islands, travel at least 3,000 kilometres on their way north to Santos Bay. Map: Julia Hager/GoogleEarth

The PMP-BS project is coordinated by the state-owned oil company Petrobras. For the company, the implementation of the project is a prerequisite for obtaining the corresponding environmental licenses for its oil and gas production projects off the coast of Brazil. Petrobras currently manages three other PMP projects in addition to the Santos Bay project, operating in ten states along the Brazilian coast where the company has operations. The first PMP was conducted in 2009.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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