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Galapagos Islands News
Penguin and Cormorant Census: Populations Healthy!
July 1st, 2011
The annual partial census of Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorant was conducted recently, over the course of a week, and the good news is that the populations of these very rare birds are stable. Every year, a group consisting of employees of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station goes to certain areas popular with the birds to count them. This year, the birds were only counted at four sites on Fernandina and Isabela islands. Every five years, a full census of Penguins and Cormorants is done, covering every place the birds have ever been sited.
The Galapagos Penguin is one of the smallest species of Penguin and the only one ever found naturally north of the Equator. This endemic, flightless bird is an excellent swimmer: it will nimbly dart among the coral and rocks of Galapagos waters nipping up small fish with blinding speed. They are usually only found in the western islands and visitors to the Galapagos can see them on Isabela, Fernandina and Bartolomé Islands.
The Flightless Cormorants have much in common with the Galapagos Penguins and are often seen at the same visitor sites. They are also endemic, swimming birds who live in the western islands, diving down to eat small fish. Although there are Cormorants all over the world, the only place where they are flightless is the Galapagos.
Both the Galapagos Penguin and the Flightless Cormorant are considered extremely endangered, due to their small populations and habitat. In addition, Penguins need water temperatures below 24 degrees Celsius to breed and the Cormorants have a high level of egg infertility, making both species all the more vulnerable. Because of these factors, the annual census is very important.
The 2010 census found 721 penguins and 922 Flightless Cormorants, similar numbers to previous years. This is good news, as it means the populations of both birds are stable. During this census, 63 Penguins and 39 Cormorants were tagged with microchips, which will allow researchers to follow their movements and identify them again in coming years. In addition to counting wings, researchers took land and water temperatures at fixed points during their voyage. They also recorded other factors such as wind and cloud cover, all of which are important factors for the birds.
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