From: SeattlePI
Published July 1, 2008 12:07 PM

Penguins seen as 'canaries in climate coal mine'

Dee Boersma and her team of students hadn't been in the Argentine penguin colony very long before they made a new friend.

A young penguin had lost his nest in a fight, so he decided the space under Boersma's turbo-powered Ford truck would make a good alternative home.


Boersma, a biology professor at University of Washington, tagged the bird with a number. She also gave him a different kind of name -- Turbo -- after his new home.

"The next year, he was more and more friendly," said Olivia Kane, a UW graduate who now volunteers for Boersma. "He would come knock on our door with his bill. He would follow us when we went to work, and we'd say, 'Go home, save your fat!' "

But for Boersma, Turbo and the 200,000 other Magellanic penguins from the Punta Tombo colony on the Atlantic coast of Argentina are far more than new friends. They have become the canaries in the global warming "coal mine," signaling the effects of climate change on oceans through their rapidly declining population.

"What penguins are telling us now is that we're seeing substantial changes in the marine environment," Boersma said. "That's a big concern."

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