July 31, 2008 in Nation/World

Penguins near equator ‘unheard of’

By MICHAEL ASTOR Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Francisco de Assis holds up a penguin last week in Salvador, northeastern Brazil.
(Full-size photo)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Penguins from frigid waters near the bottom of the world are washing up closer to the equator than ever before, Brazilian wildlife authorities said Wednesday.

Adelson Cerqueira Silva of the federal environmental agency said that about 300 penguins have been found dead or alive in recent days along the coast of Bahia state, better known for sunbathers in bikinis than for seabirds native to Antarctica and Patagonia.

Its capital of Salvador is roughly 600 miles closer to the equator than Miami is and temperatures in the current Southern Hemisphere winter are in the mid-70s.

“This is unheard of. There have even been reports of penguins washing up as far as Aracaju,” Silva said, referring to a beachside state capital even closer to the equator.

Silva said biologists believe stronger-than-usual ocean currents have pulled the birds north. Others have suggested the increase might be due to overfishing near Patagonia and Antarctica that has forced the penguins to swim farther in search of food.

Silva said the environmental authority was receiving hundreds of phone calls reporting penguin sightings.

“We’re telling people if the penguins don’t appear to be injured or sick to leave them alone so they can swim back,” Silva said in a telephone interview from Salvador.

Rescued penguins have swamped a triage center for rescued birds, and Silva said about 90 of the birds found alive have since died.

While penguins commonly wash up as far north as Rio de Janeiro state in July and August, hundreds have done so this year. Bahia is roughly 750 miles northeast of Rio.

P. Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington who works with penguins in Argentina, said that while she has heard of penguins occasionally washing up as far north as Bahia, the numbers washing up this year are extremely high.

The majority of penguins turning up are baby birds that have just left the nest and are least able to outswim the strong ocean currents.

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