Skip to main content

Natural causes killed penguins along Brazilian coast, scientists say

By Marilia Brochetto and Rory Anderson, CNN
July 18, 2012 -- Updated 0049 GMT (0849 HKT)
Marine scientists say the birds are badly decomposed but otherwise seem unhurt and without oil stains.
Marine scientists say the birds are badly decomposed but otherwise seem unhurt and without oil stains.
  • More than 700 washed ashore in Rio Grande do Sul, biologists say
  • Birds were decomposed but otherwise seem unharmed
  • Penguins migrate from Argentina about this time of year, biologist says

(CNN) -- Researchers at the Brazilian Center for Coastal Studies at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil believe that 745 penguins found washed up along the state's coastline since June 15 have died of natural causes.

The center, known as Ceclimar, said in a release this week that it reached the conclusion after analyzing the conditions in which the animals were found. Most of the birds were young, according to biologist Mauricio Tavares. The lean birds showed no signs of external injury or oil in their plumes.

"Birds in the first year of life are inexperienced," he said, adding that the pattern of dead birds is common for this time of year and that the deaths are a result of "the process of natural selection."

In 2010, more than 550 penguins washed up on Sao Paulo state's Atlantic coast. In that case, necropsies showed that the penguins died of starvation.

The Peruvian government launched an official inquiry this year when close to 3,000 dolphins and more than 500 pelicans washed up along that country's northern Pacific coast.

This case is the first in which Ceclimar is conducting a more intensive monitoring of deaths. According to Tavares, July is historically the month when more birds arrive at the center for rehabilitation after washing up on the beaches weakened, injured or covered in oil.

"The animals usually migrate from Argentina around this time of year in search of food and warmer weather, and each year, some do wash up," he said. "But over 500 is a very, very high number."

Ceclimar set up weekly monitoring along the Rio Grande do Sul coast to study the dynamics of the Magellan penguins.

The biologists working at the center also collected 30 birds for a more detailed analysis; that report should be completed within a month. The release says the physical state of the birds is such that researchers could designate the deaths natural.

Tavares said earlier that "the animals were a lot smaller in terms of size and weight than normal penguins, so we think it will be natural causes, but it is certainly very strange."

Penguins have also shown up along the famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro. CNN affiliate TV Record reports that since the end of June, almost 40 penguins have been rescued along the beaches. In those cases, the birds are being cared for by SOS Aves and the Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity.

Previously on Official says 'Natural causes' behind dolphin deaths in Peru

Previously on 2,300 birds found dead along Chilean beaches

Beauty trumps beast in conservation efforts

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.