Penguins in Alaska?
June 5, 2007
Penguins found in Alaskan waters likely reach the Northern Hemisphere by fishing boat rather than by swimming, report University of Washington researchers.
Penguins, except for a species found in the Galapagos at the Equator, are naturally found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.
Writing in the June edition of the Wilson Journal of Ornithology, Dee Boersma, a UW biology professor and Amy Van Buren, a UW doctoral student in biology, say that the most probable explanation for penguins occasionally found in northern waters is that fishermen hauled them aboard boats and then released them far from their native habitat.
“The crews keep the penguins as pets on board the boat. They’re appealing,” said Van Buren. “People keep them around because they’re so cute.”
The black-footed penguin is native to South Africa. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
“People have always tried to move species around, and that’s particularly true for penguins because people like penguins,” Boersma said. “They’re still regularly kept as pets in villages in Peru and Chile.”
Van Buren and Boersma said it is highly unlikely that penguins would make it to Alaska and other northern waters on their own due to adverse climate conditions. Further, the presence of bears in the north would make it difficult for a penguin to survive for long.
The researchers add that sighted penguins are unlikely to be zoo escapees since most zoo animals are tagged for identification. Further zoo penguins would have trouble persisting in the wild.