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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Adélie penguins have their moment on camera

Ever wonder what penguins do when they’re under the waves? So did Yuuki Watanabe and Akinora Takahashi of the National Institute of Polar Research, Tokyo, who attached video cameras to free-swimming Adélie penguins. This allowed the researchers to address the question of just how these birds forage for food.

Besides the cameras on the penguins’ backs, which lasted just under one and a half hours, each bird was also fitted out with two tiny accelerometers. These had a lifetime of about 50 hours and were attached to the head and back of the animals. By using the devices in combination, the scientists were able to see exactly how the birds proceeded to capture their prey.

The movie cameras showed when each animal’s activities culminated in an actual meal so that unrelated movements could be screened out. Next, the scientists were able to subtract the birds’ whole body movements from their head alone movements by comparing data from the accelerometers in those two positions. In this way, they could determine the exact technique the birds used to subdue different types of prey.

I’m not sure how groundbreaking it is to know whether Adélie penguins sweep their heads to the side or keep their necks stiff when foraging for food. On the other hand, I do think this combination of video and movement detectors is pretty ingenious. I’m sure many more interesting discoveries will come of it. 

You can see footage from the 'penguin-cam' below:

Watanabe, Y., & Takahashi, A. (2013). Linking animal-borne video to accelerometers reveals prey capture variability Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1216244110.