Polar Biology

, Volume 30, Issue 10, pp 1303–1313 | Cite as

Responses of Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) to encounters with ecotourists while commuting to and from their breeding colony

  • Joanna BurgerEmail author
  • Michael Gochfeld
Original Paper


Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) were studied at the Snow Hill breeding colony in November 2006 to determine the effect of people on penguins traveling between the colony and the sea to forage. We tested the null hypothesis that the presence and number of people had no effect on the trajectory of movement or the number and duration of pauses. The distances at which penguins noticed people (mean 35.6 m), changed direction (mean 22.8 m), and the number and duration of pauses increased significantly with increases in the number of tourists in their path, which explained more than 50% of the variance. Undisturbed penguins usually tobogganed on their ventral surface over the ice. When penguins noticed people, they usually stood up and often called. In 10 min observation periods, penguins traveling more than 200 m from people paused an average of <1 min vs. 3.8 min for those passing near people, increasing the energetic cost of commuting. After passing people, penguins rarely stopped. Penguins response to people varied by time of day; later in the day they responded less quickly, changed directions when closer to people, stopped for less time, and passed by people closer than they did earlier in the day. We suggest that the effect of ecotourists on traveling penguins can be partly mitigated by having people walk in small, tight-knit groups, by having people stop moving whenever traveling penguins are within about 25 m to allow the penguins to choose the direction of their passage, and by keeping the visitor pathway separate from the penguin paths insofar as possible.


Human disturbance Colony management Antarctica Response distance Parental care Locomotion Marching Toboganning 



We thank Patti and Bert Murray, and the entire staff of the Kapitan Khlebnikov for logistical help during the expedition. Tour ornithologist, Akos Hivekovics and photographer Wayne Lynch provided information about the emperor penguin behavior at other colonies they had visited, and Marc Slattery provided information on emperor penguin responses to visitors at the Cape Crozier and Cape Washington colonies. Tim Griffin and G. Kooyman provided information on penguin locomotion. Our overall protocol for conducting behavioral observations with birds was approved by the Rutgers University Animal Review Committee.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Life SciencesRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  2. 2.Environmental and Occupational MedicineUMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical SchoolPiscatawayUSA

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