Finding food in the open ocean: foraging strategies in Humboldt penguins

Zoology (Jena). 2001;104(3-4):327-38. doi: 10.1078/0944-2006-00038.


Penguins are excellent "model" organisms allowing us to study the behaviour of marine homeotherms at sea. Penguins regularly return to their breeding colonies, enabling biologists to equip them with remote sensing devices such as physiological or behavioural data-loggers, radio- or satellite transmitters. Foraging trips at sea can last from days to weeks and after return of the birds to their breeding sites, the devices can easily be removed for analysis of on-board stored data, yielding a wealth of information. Investigation of penguin behaviour at sea becomes particularly revealing when other sources of information can be matched to the data set, such as satellite data on wind, temperature, ice cover, and chlorophyll-a concentrations. Penguins and other marine homeotherms are true inhabitants of the high seas. Depending on the season, the marine behaviour varies: during reproduction, penguins are central-place foragers, and must return regularly to their nest to feed their chicks. During the remainder of the year, there are no constraints and the birds travel large distances at sea. Breeding Humboldt penguins react to climatic change by varying their daily foraging range and dive duration. Similar to other representatives of the family Spheniscidae, Humboldt penguins avoid food shortages by migrating into more productive marine areas. Navigational clues such as daylength, sea surface temperature, local wind direction and olfaction might provide important aids in finding patchily distributed prey in the open ocean. DMS, a chemical compound produced by decaying algae, seems to be a further clue that indirectly points the way to feeding areas.