Lonely Planet Writer

Shortage of fish threatens African penguins ravaging breeding bird numbers

The African penguin attracts millions of tourists to South Africa each year, but their numbers are now being threatened by a lack of fish to eat.

African penguins are a big tourist attraction but shortage of fish has threatened their numbers
African penguins are a big tourist attraction but shortage of fish has threatened their numbers Image by Harvey Barrison / CC BY 2.0

The penguins only breed on four mainland sites in South Africa and Namibia and 25 islands, but latest figures show the number of breeding pairs has fallen dramatically to only 25,000 from a figure of nearly a million less than a century ago.

However, it is in the past decade that the bird numbers on the main breeding colonies have reduced by 90% due primarily to a shortage of fish, reports the South African Times.

University of Exeter researcher Richard Sherley said that food had become a major problem for the penguins.

As the lead author of a study published in the Royal Society Publishing journal Biology Letters, Mr Sherley found that while chick survival has risen thanks to a three-year fishing moratorium around Robben Island, it was not enough to balance the huge rate of adult bird mortality. The author believed that although the African penguins could survive for another three decades in the wild, the worry was that they now only had a 10-year live span.

This is due to the fact that sardine and anchovy shoals have left the west side of the coast to migrate over in the east. Mr Robert Crawford, a scientist at the Department of Environmental Affairs, said in all probability, this was as a response to both fishing practices in the area and also to climate change.