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Updated: May 10, 2009

Coming to the aid of penguins

South American penguin network works to save and study oiled birds

Photo penguins released in South America

Cleaned of oil, Magellanic Penguins are released by the Penguin Network in South America. (Photo: Valeria Ruoppolo/IFAW)

There’s hope for oiled penguins in South America after the creation of a team of experts to help study the plight of these flightless seabirds. Dubbed the IFAW Penguin Rehabilitation and Research Network, the group’s aim is to document the damage that chronic oiling does to Magellanic Penguins along the coasts of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

See: Penguin Network numbers from 2001-2008

Funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and co-managed by the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), the network strives to bring together South America rehabilitation organizations working with penguins and help them to increase the number of rescued animals, standardize rehabilitation protocols, share information and collect pertinent data.

Cleaning penguin phot

Rodolfo P. da Silva Filho DVM of CRAM washing an oiled Magellanic penguin.

New penguin tracking study

A team of scientists led by Dr. Dee Boersma of the University of Washington and assisted by the Penguin Network's Valeria Ruoppolo is now tagging penguins to study the migration pattern of these animals along the shore of South America.

Six adult male penguins from a group of oiled penguins at two coastal towns in Northern Argentina--San Clemente del Tuyú and Mar del Plata--were selected to carry satellite transmitters during their southern migration back to their breeding colonies. You can track these penguins and learn more about this project at this special migration website.


The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) lives along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America. The eastern population breeds in large colonies in Argentina and migrates north as far as Southwest Brazil between March and September. The western population ranges as far north as Peru.

Rockhopper penguin

An oiled Rockhopper penguin.

Studies by Gandini and collaborators (1994), show that an estimated number of up to 20.000 adult penguins and 22.000 juveniles die every year due to chronic oil pollution along the coast of Argentina alone, representing only a fourth of the total range for the species.

The ultimate goal is to understand the effects of oiling on penguins and to mitigate these effects through rehabilitation, research, prevention, and publicity. Additionally, the network is compiling much needed data from this region on the effects of chronic oiling.

Chilean oil spill response

Every year oiled penguins show up on beaches along their migration route. The majority of the birds are left on remote areas, slowly die and join the list of the many forgotten victims of chronic oiling in other sensitive areas such as the eastern coast of Canada. Although research on the effects of oil on this population of penguins has been published, it is primarily in scientific journals and most people do not know that this unnecessary waste of life, solely created by humans, is occurring.

Releasing penguins

Treated and released Magellanic Penguins. (Photo: FMM/Sergio R. Heredia)

A small number of oiled penguins are rescued annually along their migration range in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil and taken to 8 rehabilitation institutions. Currently, between these 8 institutions approximately 350 to 500 animals are being rescued every year. These organizations all have existing rehabilitation programs and can house up to 200 birds at a time at each facility.

Map of South America Penguin Network

Penguin Network/South America map

In August-September 2001, more oiled penguins showed up than usual. IBRRC and IFAW joined together, to support the IFAW Emergency Response(ER) team, managed by Dr. Valeria Ruoppolo, with 3 different institutions in the north of Argentina (Fundación Mundo Marino and Fundación Aquarium) and Uruguay (SOS- Rescate de Fauna Marina). IFAW funded basic equipment and assistance for the rehabilitation of approximately 543 animals of which 84% were released.

In June 2002, oiled penguins again began to show up on beaches of Brazil and Uruguay. By late July “normal” numbers of birds went up and CRAM found themselves with a minimum of 75 to 100 birds at any given time. On August 5 the number was 111 live animals in house with 69 animals clean and outside. By August 15th the rehabilitation rate in Brazil was 81% (90 of 111), when the Team has gone to Uruguay to work on another 135 oiled penguins. The final result on this response was a 93% release rate (126 of 135).

Between 2001 and 2004 the IFAW ER Team was directly involved in rescuing and rehabilitating 1,090 penguins in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile. From those rescued, 85.1% of the penguins (928 of 1,090) were rehabilitated by five different institutions.

2008 Penguin Network rehabiitation results




Percent released





Download full Penguin Network report for 2001-2008 PDF image PDF 192 kb

More downloadable info:

pdf icon Update: South America Penguin Network (PDF 200 kb)

pdf icon EOW 2005 presentation Penguin Network (PDF 328 kb

Current members of the network from North to South:

At this time, there are eight organizations that comprise the Penguin Network, however, there are a number of other organizations that will be contacted, including beach survey groups in an effort to increase the amount of data that can be compiled through the network. The following is a list of current participants:


Rio de Janeiro State:
• GEMM-Lagos/ENSP/FIOCRUZ (beach monitoring).
Contact: Dr. Salvatore Siciliano
Address: Rua Leopoldo Bulhões, 1480 – Manguinhos- Rio de Janeiro, RJ – Brazil.
ZIP Code 21041-210
Phone: +55-21-2598 2525 int. 2546 / Fax: 21-2290 0484

São Paulo State:

Aquário Municipal de Santos (rehabilitation center).
Address: R. Bartolomeu Gusmão, s/n. Ponta da Praia, Santos, SP – Brazil

Aquário de Ubatuba (AqUba) (rehabilitation activities)

Paraná State:

Centro de Estudos do Mar (CEM), Universidade Federal do Paraná
(rehabilitation center and beach monitoring).

Rio Grande do Sul State:

Centro de Recuperação de Animais Marinhos (CRAM),
Museu Oceanográfico Prof. Eliézer de C. Rios, Fundação Universidade Federal do Rio Grande
(rehabilitation center and beach monitoring).


Protección de Fauna Marina (PROFAUMA) (rehabilitation activities)


Fundación Mundo Marino (FMM) (rehabilitation center and beach monitoring).

Fundación Aquarium (MDP Aq) (rehabilitation center)

For further information, please contact: Valeria Ruoppolo ifaw.pn@uol.com.br

National Geographic story on working on Argentina oil spill

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