Contrary to the fears of some, penguins and people do mix

Jul 11, 2019

IN 1969 A cruise ship called MS Lindblad Explorer, the first vessel purpose-built for such a trip, and carrying 90 passengers, arrived in Antarctic waters. Since then, Antarctic tourism has increased dramatically. Nowadays, well over 35,000 visitors a season make landfall in the austral summer. Most of these landings take place on the Antarctic peninsula and its adjacent islands, with the intention of visiting colonies of gentoo penguins.

That worries many conservationists, who fear such quantities of people may be disturbing the penguins, to the birds’ detriment. However, a study just published in Polar Biology by Maureen Lynch of Stony Brook University, in New York, brings good news for penguins, tourists and tour-operators alike—for, as far as Dr Lynch can determine, the tourists’ visits are not stressing the birds at all.

The conventional way of deciding whether visits by tourists are stressful to the animals so visited is to recruit a bunch of PhD students to observe those animals and make copious behavioural observations when tourists are and are not present, in order that the two may be compared. This is arduous and expensive, for even PhD students, lowly as they are, need to be housed and fed. An alternative is to sample the animals’ blood...


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