Forget 10000 steps – Fitbit-style trackers show how many waddles … – Stuff


They are the must-have accessory seen in gyms and offices across New Zealand, but now Fitbit-style trackers are being used to monitor penguins in Antarctica.
A team of Kiwi and US scientists are using GPS-based technology to learn more about the majestic Emperor Penguin.
Birds at the Cape Crozier emperor colony were caught and kitted-out with trackers, akin to a Fitbit.
Researchers were then able to record how far the penguins went to find food, how deep they dive and even whether they walk, swim or slide to get around.
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“The technology is not that dissimilar from what everyone carries on them on the daily, such as technology that’s found on your phone, or technology that’s on your smartwatch” said Parker Forman, a graduate student on the research team.
“We know when they were standing by the orientation of the tag, we can actually calculate how many steps they took, how long they were actually just resting.”
The project is a collaboration between New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) and San Jose State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.
It is part of the Ross Sea Region and Monitoring Programme (Ross-RAMP), a five-year research effort evaluating the effectiveness of the Ross Sea marine protected area (MPA).
Multi-year research has shown just how far the penguins go while fuelling-up to feed their chicks, with one travelling over 1000km and diving to a depth of 486m during a 16-day foraging trip.
“We’re hoping to learn where the emperor penguins are going, how deep they are diving, how hard they have to work to get their food,” says Birgitte​ McDonald, an associate professor at San Jose State University.
“This work will help us to understand how the marine protected area is functioning and if changes need to be made in order to protect the species here.”
The project has been recorded by New Zealand videographer Anthony Powell.
When the birds return to shore, the research team has to find them using a scanner to detect a radio transmitter. Then the birds are recaptured and the data loggers retrieved.
Emperor penguins depend on sea ice to breed and are an indicator species of climate change.
“They’re sort of the canaries in the coal mine,” said postdoctoral researcher Caitlin Kroeger.
“When something’s wrong, especially with climate change, things are going to be changing really rapidly in a polar place, and this is the last area for them.”
With no action to reduce emissions, the populations are projected to decline close to extinction by the year 2100. Information about climate change and the emperor penguins’ projected decline – and measures to protect the species – has been prepared by the Antarctic Science Platform.
The emperor penguin research was funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) endeavour programme and a National Science Foundation polar programs grant, with logistical support from Antarctica New Zealand and Scott Base.
The Ross Sea MPA – which was championed by New Zealand and the United States – came into effect in 2017 with the support of 25 countries and aims to conserve the area’s ecology and mitigate threats to ecosystems from fishing.
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