Brussels, 30 Mar 2004
UK and Japanese scientists have obtained the first ever pictures of penguins interacting with one another underwater by strapping miniature cameras to the birds' backs.
Observing any underwater behaviour is notoriously difficult as the presence of a human being affects the behaviour of the creature in question.
'The images are really exciting. Genuine underwater behaviour in penguins is almost impossible to record because animals can act unnaturally when a diver is nearby - who, in any case, wouldn't be able to keep up with a penguin swimming at an average speed of over eight kilometres an hour,' said Dr Phil Trathan of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
The images showed that penguins remain in groups for 24 per cent of dives for food. The researchers believe that the true figure may be even higher as the cameras used were only able to record what was in front, is will have missed any penguins following the one carrying the camera.
The scientists believe that this preference for groups may be a strategy for avoiding predators, rather than a tactic for rounding up krill.
The cameras are removed when the penguin returns to its chick, usually after one to three days. It is small, and although it does change the hydrodynamic shape of the bird slightly, it has only minimal impact. The project team will now seek to improve the resolution of the cameras used, and then observe how penguins target krill. This information could have conservation value for penguins.