Over the past week 512 penguins swept from the icy shores of Antarctica washed up dead on the tropical Brazilian beaches in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, marine biologists and veterinarians said Friday.
This particular species is the Magellanic penguin whose habitat ranges from the Strait of Magellan in the south to as far north as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The marine animals landed on the coast between the towns of Tramandai and Cidreira, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the state capital, Porto Alegre.
The residents of the region found them and subsequently informed the environmental patrol.
Investigators from the Brazilian Center of Martine Studies (Ceclimar) have sent 30 samples from the birds at Porto Alegre University to determine the cause of death. The results of the analysis will be available in a month’s time.
What is serious cause for concern is that the birds are apparently well fed and good physical condition. They do not appear exhausted nor exhibit any signs of injuries or oil stains.
Similar incidents in the past
It is common to find dead penguins swept by strong ocean currents from the Strait of Magellan on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro state.
The birds die from starvation and exhaustion during migration. However, veterinarians are puzzled by the large scale of deaths this season.
What is serious cause for concern is that the birds are apparently well fed and in good physical condition. They do not appear exhausted nor exhibit any signs of injuries or oil stains.
Last week dozens of penguins were spotted on the tropical beaches near Rio after straying far beyond their normal range.
They became an instant attraction for beach-goers. The birds rescued from the water were sick and had stomach ulcers from lack of food.
After nursing them back to health, the Brazil's environment agency is preparing to airlift those penguins back to the south.
“After rehab, we are working on the logistics plan to take them back to a rehab center … in order to release these animals afterwards back in nature, in their natural habitat,” said Silvia Torres, an animal welfare worker.
The Magellanic penguins
Magellanic penguins breed in coastal Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands in South America. During the months of March and September the birds are occasionally seen as far north as Rio de Janeiro when they migrate in search of food.
The species have a broad black band under their chin and another that runs in an inverted horseshoe shape around their fronts. The chest is dotted with a few black spots in a random pattern.
Magellanic Penguins stand 60 cm tall and their weight varies through the year from 4 to 6 kg. They feed mainly on small fish and marine crustaceans and their chief enemy is the southern sea lion.
Though not considered an endangered species, the total population of a major colony in Antarctica has declined by 36 percent since 1991.