The Baie du Marin colony of breeding king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) has gotten used to humans, it seems, who have been present on Possession Island where the penguins reside since a permanent research station was set up there in 1961.
The king penguins come ashore on the sub-antarctic island to breed each year. Hundreds of the penguins waddle onto land to find a mate, and hopefully, make some chicks.
The second largest penguin behind the emperor, king penguins grow to about 3 feet tall and weigh on average 30 or 40 pounds.
Like other penguins, the king penguin sports waterproof feathers.
Some parts of the Baie du Marin colony have been exposed more intensely to humans than others. And a small group, about 50 birds, gets captured and handled by scientists one to five times each year.
When comparing the disturbed and undisturbed birds (those that see humans maybe one to two visits a week), the researchers found the disturbed birds didn't get so stressed by human presence, with their heart rates not increasing so much compared with the undisturbed birds.
The researchers aren't sure if the king penguins are acclimating to humans and so don't get stressed when in their presence or if human presence weeded out those stress-sensitive penguins, leaving the copers behind.
Fuzzy New Coat
Before breeding, King penguins molt, a lengthy process in which they lose their old feathers and replace them with new ones. Since, like juveniles, the penguins can't fish for food until their new feathery coat is complete, they must live on food reserves during molting.
With so many penguins on Possession Island, perhaps it should instead be called Penguin Island.
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Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.