Skip to main content
Log in

Population status of the endemic royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) at Macquarie Island

Polar Biology Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Cite this article


Penguins globally are of conservation concern due to rapid decreases in many populations. Royal penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli) are endemic to Macquarie Island and its offshore islands and the current population status of this species is unknown. Here, we present a contemporary population estimate, undertaken in 2016 using precise global position system technology. Between August and December 2016, all royal penguin colonies were visited and the number of breeding pairs estimated by mapping the perimeters of colonies and applying a nest density estimate. The royal penguin population was estimated at 750,037 breeding pairs (range 669,538–830,154 pairs). The estimate is slightly lower than a previous estimate in 1984, but given the refined methods it was not possible to establish a significant difference or that a decrease in the population has not occurred. Future censuses utilising a consistent methodology are required to more accurately determine the current population trend. Establishing the current status of the royal penguin population will help assess the species vulnerability to several threats that are impacting similar species in the sub-Antarctic region, and inform conservation planning and management.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Australian Government (2011) Assessment of the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

    Google Scholar 

  • Barbosa A, Palacios MJ (2009) Health of Antarctic birds: a review of their parasites, pathogens and diseases. Polar Biol 32:1095

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. June 2017

  • Bivand R, Rundel C (2014) rgeos: Interface to Geometry Engine Open Source (GEOS). R package version 0.3-3

  • Borboroglu PG, Boersma PD (eds) (2013) Penguins: natural history and conservation. University of Washington Press, Seattle

    Google Scholar 

  • Brothers N (1985) Breeding biology, diet and morphometrics of the king shag, Phalacrocorax albiventer purpurascens, at Macquarie Island. Wildl Res 12:81–94

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brothers N, Ledingham R (2008) The avifauna of Bishop and Clerk islets and its relationship to nearby Macquarie Island. Pap Proc R Soc Tas 142:117–121

    Google Scholar 

  • Cooper J, Crawford RJ, De Villiers MS, Dyer BM, Hofmeyr GG, Jonker A (2009) Disease outbreaks among penguins at sub-Antarctic Marion Island: a conservation concern. Mar Ornithol 37:193–196

    Google Scholar 

  • G Copson D Rounsevell 1987 The abundance of royal penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli, Finsch) breeding at Macquarie Island 41 Antarctic Division Department of Science

  • Costin A, Moore D (1960) The effects of rabbit grazing on the grasslands of Macquarie Island. J Ecol 48:729–732

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crawford R et al (2017) Tangled and drowned: a global review of penguin bycatch in fisheries. Endanger Spec Res 34:373–396

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Croxall JP, Butchart SH, Lascelles B, Stattersfield AJ, Sullivan B, Symes A, Taylor P (2012) Seabird conservation status, threats and priority actions: a global assessment. Bird Conserv Int 22:1–34

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • JS Cumpston 1968 Macquarie Island Australia Department of External Affairs Antarctic Division

  • Cunningham DM, Moors PJ (1994) The decline of rockhopper penguins Eudyptes chrysocome at Campbell Island, Southern Ocean and the influence of rising sea temperatures. Emu 94:27–36

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Day J, Hillary R (2017) Stock assessment of the Macquarie Island fishery for Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) using data up to and including August 2016. CSIRO, Australia

    Google Scholar 

  • Dunn MJ, Jackson JA, Adlard S, Lynnes AS, Briggs DR, Fox D, Waluda CM (2016) Population size and decadal trends of three penguin species nesting at Signy Island. South Orkney Islands. PLoS ONE 11:e0164025

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Ellis S, Croxall JP, Cooper J (1998) Penguin conservation and assessment plan. IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple Valley

    Google Scholar 

  • Grimaldi WW, Jabour J, Woehler EJ (2011) Considerations for minimising the spread of infections disease in Antartic seabirds and seals. Polar Rec 47:56–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grimaldi WW, Seddon PJ, Lyver POB, Nakagawa S, Tompkins DM (2015) Infectious diseases of Antarctic penguins: current status and future threats. Polar Biol 38:591–606

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • GSGSSI (2010) Disease affects king penguins. GSGSSI,

  • Hindell MA, Bradshaw CJ, Brook BW, Fordham DA, Kerry K, Hull C, McMahon CR (2012) Long-term breeding phenology shift in royal penguins. Ecol Evol 2:1563–1571

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hiscock JA, Chilvers BL (2014) Declining eastern rockhopper (Eudyptes filholi) and erect-crested (E. sclateri) penguins on the Antipodes Islands. New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 38:124–131

    Google Scholar 

  • Hodgson JC, Baylis SM, Mott R, Herrod A, Clarke RH (2016) Precision wildlife monitoring using unmanned aerial vehicles. Sci Rep 6:22574

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Horswill C et al (2014) Survival in macaroni penguins and the relative importance of different drivers: individual traits, predation pressure and environmental variability. J Anim Ecol 83:1057–1067

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hull CL (1999) The foraging zones of breeding royal (Eudyptes schlegeli) and rockhopper (E. chrysocome) penguins: an assessment of techniques and species comparison. Wildl Res 26:789–803

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Isaksen K, Huyser O, Kirkman S, Wanles R, Wilson W (2000) Studies of seabirds and seals on Bouvetøya 1998/99. Norsk Polarinstitutt, Tromsø

    Google Scholar 

  • Major L et al (2009) Ticks associated with Macquarie Island penguins carry arboviruses from four genera. PLoS ONE 4:e4375

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Morrison KW, Battley PF, Sagar PM, Thompson DR (2015) Population dynamics of eastern rockhopper penguins on Campbell Island in relation to sea surface temperature 1942–2012: current warming hiatus pauses a long-term decline. Polar Biol 38:163–177

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morrison KW, Armstrong DP, Battley PF, Jamieson SE, Thompson DR (2017) Predation by New Zealand sea lions and brown skuas is causing the continued decline of an eastern rockhopper penguin colony on Campbell Island. Polar Biol 40:735–751

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parks and Wildlife Service (2014) Macquarie dispatch. MI Pest Eradication Project Newsletter vol 14.

  • Pebesma E, Bivand R (2005) Classes and methods for spatial data in R.

  • Pople A, Simpson R, Cairns S (1990) An incident of Southern Occean oil pollution: Effects of a spillage of diesel fuel on the rocky shore of Macquarie Island (Sub-Antarctic). Mar Freshw Res 41:603–620

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Richardson M (1984) Aspects of the ornithology of the Tristan da Cunha group and Gough Island, 1972–1974. Mar Ornithol 12:123–201

    Google Scholar 

  • Salton M (2017) Wildlife monitoring program, Macquarie Island: Internal report 2016-2017. Tasmanian Government,

  • Schulz M, Lynn J (2003) Census of the gentoo penguin Pygoscelis papua, royal penguin Eudyptes schegeli, imperial shag Phalacrocorax purpurascens and Antarctic tern Sterna vittata. Macquarie Island, Tasmanian Government

    Google Scholar 

  • Scott J, Kirkpatrick J (2008) Rabbits, landslips and vegetation change on the coastal slopes of subantarctic Macquarie Island, 1980–2007: implications for management. Polar Biol 31:409–419

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Selkirk J (1996) Peat slides on subantarctic Macquarie Island. Zeit Geomorph 105:61–72

    Google Scholar 

  • Trathan PN et al (2015) Pollution, habitat loss, fishing, and climate change as critical threats to penguins. Conserv Biol 29:31–41

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Travers T, van den Hoff J, Lea M-A, Carlyon K, Reisinger R, de Bruyn PJN, Morrice M (2018) Aspects of the ecology of killer whale (Orcinus orca Linn.) groups in the near-shore waters of Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Polar Biol,

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to all who helped with field surveys of royal penguins at Macquarie Island in 2016, including Chris Howard, Rowena Lundie, Alison Skinn, George Brettingham-Moore and Penny Pascoe, and the logistical support from the Australian Antarctic Division. We thank the Marine Conservation Program (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment), for their valuable advice and support while conducting these surveys. We are also thankful to Geoff Copson and David Rounsevell for their pioneering efforts in surveying the population in 1984 and Martin Schulz and John Lynn for their efforts in 2003. We are grateful to three anonymous reviewers that improved drafts of the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marcus Salton.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Salton, M., Kliska, K., Carmichael, N. et al. Population status of the endemic royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) at Macquarie Island. Polar Biol 42, 771–781 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: