Severe tropical storm kills nearly 600 penguins in Brazil | Polarjournal
Like this footage from last year, when some 50 dead penguins washed up in the same region at once, it looked similarly on the beaches of Santa Catarina last week. A total of 596 dead animals were counted at one time. Image: Educar / Divulgação

Magellanic penguins do not like it as cold as their Antarctic relatives, but prefer the coastal areas between Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands and the Valdez Peninsula in Argentina. In the southern winter, the black and white birds even migrate as far as Brazil to find enough food. They are not only at the mercy of the fishermen and the ship traffic, but also of the weather. Now an unusually strong tropical storm has washed up several hundred Magellanic penguins on the southern coast of Brazil, most of which were already dead.

On beaches in the Santa Catarina region of southern Brazil last week, aid workers and members of the Santos Basin Beach Monitoring Project found more than 600 Magellanic penguins, only a few of which were still alive. According to a count, 596 of the penguins were already dead when they were found. The few survivors were cared for in stations and later released, Brazilian media report. The Santa Catarina region is located between the major Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre and Florianópolis and is a densely populated coastal region with long sandy beaches that are very popular with vacationers.

Experts who had conducted examinations on the penguins’ carcasses assume that the cause of the mass death had been a severe tropical storm, which had caused a high number of casualties, especially among the young, inexperienced penguins. The storm had hit the region with great force a few days earlier, leaving massive damage to infrastructure and causing flooding, as images on CNN Brazil show. According to the Brazilian weather service, wind speeds of over 110 km/h had been measured. However, these had probably been even higher on the open sea. In addition to the penguins, responders and experts also found numerous sea turtles, jellyfish and other marine life on beaches in the region, an indication of the ferocity of the unusually severe storm. Experts believe that more animals perished in the storm but have not washed up on beaches or have not yet been discovered.

Magellanic penguins spend the austral summer on beaches and coasts from Patagonia to Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. When the animals migrate north in the fall, they are exposed to numerous hazards, including severe storms, which have increased in intensity and number in recent years. (Photo: Dr Michael Wenger)

While it is not uncommon for dead penguins to be discovered on the beaches of southern Brazil from time to time. After all, the animals spend the winter in the region. But reports of numerous dead animals at once are now accumulating. The approximately 600 dead penguins are only the latest victims of a severe storm, Already in mid-July, 297 dead Magellanic penguins were discovered on a stretch of beach in the same region after a severe tropical storm raged. This was reported by the Record News television station in a video. Experts are concerned about this accumulation of dead animals. Magellanic penguins are not endangered and their total population is estimated at 1.1 – 1.6 million breeding pairs. But numbers are declining and at the same time the threat level for the birds is increasing due to an increase in fishing activities along the coasts of Argentina and Brazil, especially by huge fishing fleets of the Chinese. In addition, the warming of marine areas, pollution from oil production and increased shipping traffic affect the animals, especially the young birds. Experts are also concerned about the species due to an increase in the intensity and number of severe tropical storms in their wintering grounds and more rainfall in breeding areas.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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