New "homes" built for rare penguins

The Galapagos penguin survives in a perpetual state of "endangered-ness".   Like many Galapagos animals and plants, the very fact that it exists only in Galapagos radically increases its vulnerability to extinction.   All it would take to die off would be a streak of bad luck - a series of terrible "El Niño" events, the introduction of avian malaria, domestic egg-eating pigs gone wild, and perhaps an ill-timed tsunami during nesting season, and numbers would plunge perhaps to a point of no-return.


There are currently about 2,000 Galapagos penguins in the world -  and they all live in Galapagos.  Just think about it:  likely half are female, and of these, perhaps half are of breeding age, meaning you have about 500 birds able to lay an egg each year - and mortality among chicks is likely not negligible.  It doesn't take much to knock such a species off its feet.


According to University of Washington experts, Galapagos penguin numbers have been falling over the past 40 years.   To reverse this trend, scientists there have been building, out of lava rock, crevasses that are suitable for penguin nests.   They found that the absence of suitable penguin nesting sites, particularly beyond the range of wild pigs, is one of the limiting factors to successful reproduction.


When CNH Tours did its first cruise in 1999, we saw very few penguins - this was just after the major 1997-98 "El Niño" event, which led to very high penguin mortality.   During our latest visit to the islands in February 2010, we were pleased to have seen a whole lot more of them.    Penguins are a delight to observe underwater, as they dart about chasing fish, and bob up to the surface, watching snorkelers go by without concern.


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