Oil-Covered Rockhopper Penguin Rehabilitation Efforts Hampered By Lack of Supplies, Isolation

rockhopper penguin photo

photo: Robbo 45/Creative Commons

Some more info on the South Atlantic oil spill affecting endangered rockhopper penguins, seals, and the other wildlife on Nightingale Island: According to officials from Tristan da Cunha some 1,600 tons of heavy fuel oil were spilled when the MS Oliva ran aground last week. All 22 crew members were rescued soon thereafter, but clean up continues. The main body of oil around the island appears to have dissipated.

Thousand of oil-covered penguins have been collected and moved to main island in the archipelago but due to lack of equipment and supplies these efforts have been slow. Tristan da Cunha, a British territory, has no airport and is at least four days away from Africa by ship. New York Times quotes island administrator Sean Burns:

A crucial next step is to confirm a second vessel to depart from Cape Town in the next few days with all the necessary equipment and supplies to clean up the birds, keep them healthy and hopefully return them to the ocean. It will be a race against time.

From local accounts of the penguin transfer:

In the first penguin transfer on Thursday 24th March 473 (we reported 500 yesterday but as you can imagine numbers are hard to keep when a priority is keeping the birds alive) rockhoppers arrived from Nightingale Island in specially constructed cardboard containers brought on the tug by Estelle van der Merwe who is now coordinating this amazing penguin clean up and instructing a small army of Tristan volunteers in this important task.

rockhopper penguin drawing 1879

Drawing (from 1879): Wikipedia

It's estimated that a total of 20,000 penguins on several islands in the chain have been affected by the spill. About 40% of the world's rockhopper penguins live in the Tristan da Cunha chain, with more than 99% of the northern rockhopper subspecies living there.

Since the 1950s the world population of them has declined 90% with climate change, overfishing, pollution due to tourism and fishing, and predation by invasive species all put forward as possible causes.

More on Oil Spills:
Endangered Rockhopper Penguins Covered In Oil By Remote South Atlantic Oil Spill (Video)
Another Oil Spill Hits the Gulf of Mexico

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