14 January 2011
Scientists in France have suggested that biologists who tag penguins to help track their movements could be causing them harm. The method could also affect data collected from penguins for research on climate change.
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For decades scientists have been following penguins by putting bands around their flippers. This allows individual birds to be identified at a distance. But there have been concerns that flipper bands might harm the birds by slowing them down as they swim.
The latest study, reported in the journal Nature, confirms it. Scientists from Strasbourg University followed a colony of king penguins for ten years. Birds fitted with bands died younger, started breeding later in the year, took longer to forage for food, and overall raised about 40% fewer chicks.
The researchers suggest that using flipper bands would now be unethical in most situations. Scientists in the field will now have to find other tagging methods, but in the meantime there are also concerns that some data gathered on penguins down the years, in this ecologically crucial part of the planet, may now be worthless.
Richard Black, BBC News
Click to hear the vocabulary:
here, tags which are attached to the penguins to identify them
penguin's wings, which are used for swimming instead of flying
hurt or injure
here, a large group of penguins which live together in one place
search their surroundings
very young penguins
not following widely held moral beliefs
of no real use or value