Tawaki – marathon penguins

We are celebrating with The Tawaki Project the release of a research paper reporting the marathon swims made by Fiordland crested penguins (tawaki) after raising chicks and before returning to moult.  

The tawaki is one of the least studied and rarest penguin species in the world.  17 tawaki were tracked over 8-10 weeks and they travelled up to 2,500km from their breeding colony, some travelling up to 7000 km in total.  This is an extraordinary feat bearing in mind that penguins generally use this time to recover and put on weight after rearing chicks and before the moult, when they can lose up to half of their body weight.  

The project is led by Dr Thomas Mattern, and our own Trustee and Tawaki Ranger, Robin Long, was part of his team and a co-author on the paper.

Dr Mattern said: “One would think that the birds try to conserve as much energy on this trip as possible. But what we found is, simply put, crazy.”

Study co-author Dr Klemens Pütz, of the Antarctic Research Trust, said it was an incredible achievement for a flightless seabird.

“The question is why the penguins leave on such an epic journey, at a time when the ocean productivity along their coastal breeding sites reaches its peak. There should be more than enough food for them just on their doorstep,” Dr Pütz said.

The authors believe tawaki make their trek because of instinct rather than necessity.

You can read more here:

Summary on RadioNZ website

Research article published on PLOS One

The Tawaki Project summary with illustrations by Giselle Clarkson