Lost Penguins Fly Home

Lost Penguins Fly Home

Penguins swim too far north in Brazil but find a ride home in a military plane.

Katherine Tweed
Published: 10/07/2008

What do you do with 399 lost young penguins? Well, give them a ride home, of course. And that is just what happened last week in Brazil.

Approximately 1000 juvenile Magellanic penguins washed up on the northern shores of Brazil in August, more than one thousand miles from their home range. Scientists aren’t quite sure how they got so off course, but a variation in the ocean temperature is probably to blame.

The young penguins followed the unusually warm current too far north, and then didn’t know where to go. Some were quick to speculate global warming was to blame, but scientists told International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) that this phenomenon has been reported before.

The penguins were starving and debilitated upon reaching shores of Northern Brazil. Many were dead or dying. But for the birds that survived, help was on the way. IFAW rehabilitated the remaining birds until they were ready to be released.

Penguin rehabilitation
(Courtesy of IFAW)

Magellanic penguins are listed as near-threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their populations are decreasing due to oil pollution off the Argentine coast and the Falkland Islands, where most of the colonies live.

With no thumb to stick out, hitchhiking was not an option for the penguins to return home. No problem, IFAW secured a C-130 Hercules Brazilian military aircraft to fly the penguins to the southern tip of Brazil.

Military cargo plane
(Courtesy of IFAW)

For flightless birds, they sure looked confident to take to the air as they marched towards the airplane. No shoes or metal belt buckles sped the process along.


(Courtesy of IFAW)

Penguins in Crate
(Courtesy of IFAW)

Penguins in plane
(Courtesy of IFAW)

The birds, which were all outfitted with ankle bands, were ready for release after an overnight rehabilitation to shake off any jet lag.

The juveniles marched straight for the ocean, looking like they knew where they were going the whole time.

Penguin release
(Courtesy of IFAW)

Penguins going into water
(Courtesy of IFAW)

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