Penguins as Marine Sentinels

Penguins as Marine Sentinels

P. Dee Boersma, Ph.D., Wadsworth Endowed Chair of Conservation Science, University of Washington. An Oppenheim Lecture

From the tropics to Antarctica, penguins depend on predictable regions of high ocean productivity where their prey aggregate. Increases in precipitation, reduction in sea ice, and more frequent El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events associated with climate warming are affecting penguins. Of the 17 species of penguins 12 are rapidly declining and their distribution and abundance is shifting as well. Increasing human perturbations from climate change, petroleum pollution, fisheries, and tourism are political problems not easy to manage and reserves and protected area tend to be static. Punta Tombo is a case study in the increasing problems penguin face with climate variation, human perturbations, and tourism to visit their breeding colonies. Punta Tombo was colonized in the mid-1920s, reached a peak of over 300,000 pairs in the mid-1970s to early 1980s, then declined. In October 2006, Punta Tombo had 200,000 breeding pairs- a decline of 22% since 1987. Magellanic penguins at their largest breeding colony, Punta Tombo, Argentina, are swimming 60 km farther north from their nests during incubation than they did a decade ago very likely reflecting shifts in prey in response to climate change and reductions in prey abundance caused by commercial fishing. These temperate penguin species, are marine sentinels for southern oceans, demonstrate that new challenges are confronting their populations.


Speaker Biography


Professor Boersma’s academic research is in the area of conservation biology and has focused on seabirds as indicators of environmental change.


Dr. Boersma was recently appointed to the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science in the University of Washington’s department of Biology. She has been at the University of Washington since 1974, initially as professor of Zoology and then as professor of Biology following the merger of the Zoology, Biology and Botany departments. She is currently Acting Chair of the Biology department.


Dr. Boersma has received many honors and awards, most recently, the American Ornithologists’ Union Coues Award 2008, Grace Hopper Award for Outstanding Achievement 2008, and the Distinguished Service Award, Society for Conservation Biology 2006. She is an Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, National Academies 2006-07 and was an Aldo Leopold Fellow from 2000-2001. Dr. Boersma has been a leader in wildlife education through many nonprofit organizations, and has made a significant contribution to translation of science into policy and practice as the Executive Editor of  Conservation in Practice, a monthly periodical for that purpose.
Since 1982, she has directed the Magellanic Penguin Project at Punta Tombo, Argentina, in her role as a scientific fellow for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Over the past 23 years, she has carried out research on Magellanic penguins in the South Atlantic, assessing their biological characteristics and the effects of human perturbations and policy changes on their survival.