King penguin washes up on Hout Bay beach
A King penguin – rare to South African oceans – is currently under SANCCOB’s professional care after being discovered in arrested moult on Hout Bay’s main beach on Thursday, 27 April 2017. A retired marine scientist discovered the bird and carefully secured it until it was collected by our staff and brought to our seabird centre in Table View.
The King penguin, which is second largest in size to the Emperor penguin, is far from its Antarctic home, but this species has been known to frequent South African waters. Moulting is an annual occurrence for penguins whereby they replace their worn-out feathers with a brand new set of waterproof feathers. A state of arrested moult means that the process has ceased, and without waterproof feathers, the bird is neither able to survive cold waters nor hunt for fish.
In addition to being in arrested moult, the penguin has a wound to the side of its beak – possibly a fish hook injury – and it is likely that the bird was accidentally caught by a fishing vessel and then released close to Hout Bay’s shores.
Being stranded on the beach means that the penguin would have been vulnerable to domestic animals, land-based predators and perhaps negatively affected by human curiosity.
While in our care, the penguin will receive nutritional supplements to induce moult. Once the moult is complete, the penguin will require time in the water to waterproof its feathers and this will be assessed as part of the release criteria. A full veterinary check shows that the penguin is in good health, other than its plumage issue, and it is anticipated that it should moult soon.
SANCCOB’s Rehabilitation Manager, Nicky Stander, says, “We are thankful to members of the public who alert us of seabirds in distress because it enables SANCCOB to rescue them if in need. The King penguin should be released in approximately four to six weeks if it undergoes a successful moult and there are no other complications. However, the release will be under the guidance of governmental conservation authorities.
“As a recognised seabird rehabilitation organisation, we work closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs, CapeNature and South African National Parks to make decisions on the best course of action for seabirds on South Africa’s coastline.”
Unfortunately, since the moult phase is the most stressful and energy demanding time in a penguin’s life, SANCCOB will not permit public viewing during the bird’s rehabilitation, to ensure that it has the best possible chance of release back where it belongs.