New PenguinCam Takes You on a Chaotic Sardine Hunt

New PenguinCam Takes You on a Chaotic Sardine Hunt
A view of the penguin charging through a shoal of sardines while feeding. (Image: WCS)

Video from a “PenguinCam” is offering an unprecedented first-person perspective of a Gentoo penguin as it forages for sardines and other fish off the coast of Argentina.

The incredible footage was taken in the Beagle Channel off Isla Martillo. It’s there in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, where the Wildlife Conservation Society, through its Argentina program, has been protecting penguins for the past two decades. The WCS, along with its partners, used this special “PenguinCam” to better understand the feeding ecology of Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua).

The result is quite remarkable, as it shows a male Gentoo penguin hunting for sardines and other fish during a single foraging session. The sardines can be seen huddling together in tight conglomerations in a desperate attempt to evade the predators.

The penguins aren’t the only species on the hunt, as diving cormorants and albatrosses can also be seen entering the fray. Andrea Raya Rey, WCS Argentina associate researcher at CADIC-CONICET, said she and her colleagues were “fascinated to see the Beagle Channel seabird community feeding on this amazing shoal of sardines,” as she explained in a WCS press release. The team had previously argued that the seabirds of Beagle Channel were reliant on sardines, “but this is the actual proof, and now it is confirmed and with a star behind the camera: the penguins,” added Raya Rey.

The penguin appeared to do quite well during his hunting trip, gobbling up sardines with impressive proficiency. The camera didn’t seem to impede his ability to feed. Gentoo penguins like to hunt for prey near the seafloor, but the new footage shows they won’t hesitate to snatch some baitfish along the way.

Penguins, as the video demonstrates, are incredibly adept swimmers, showing great speed and agility in the water. These semi-aquatic creatures are clearly built for the ocean, but as birds they still need to lay their eggs on land. Hence their need to retain a modicum of terrestrial ability — even if it makes them look awkward as hell when on land.

Gentoo penguins on land, including the male with the PenguinCam strapped to his back.  (Photo: Sabrina Harris/WCS)Gentoo penguins on land, including the male with the PenguinCam strapped to his back. (Photo: Sabrina Harris/WCS)

As previous research shows, Gentoo penguins make weird buzzing sounds while foraging, which they likely do to keep the hunting pack together and improve their chances of catching prey.

The team from CONICET-CADIC installed the camera onto the penguin’s back, hoping to compare the feeding ecology of Gentoo penguins of Argentina to the yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) of New Zealand. The collaborative project also involved the Antarctic Research Trust and the Tawaki Project, which donated the PenguinCam.

The researchers removed the camera from the penguin’s back after just one foraging session and then closely monitored the bird to make sure he was ok, which he was. The bird continued with his parenting duties, including the nurturing of chicks, according to the WCS release.