U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE ECOLOGY PROGRESS SERIES Vol. 165: 161-172,1998.


Penguins rely on vision to travel and hunt at sea. Vision in marine predators, particularly those hunting phototactic prey under a broad range of light intensities, must be better understood to realize how these species respond to changes in their environment. We studied the effects of daily cycles in light intensity on visual predators by examining the duration and timing of chinstrap penguins' Pygoscelis Antarctica foraging trips and the size, composition, and timing of their meals. We used radio telemetry and stomach-contents sampling to study adult penguins that were provisioning chicks during the summers of 1993 and 1994 at Seal Island, Antarctica. The penguins rarely initiated or terminated foraging trips at night, but otherwise varied the timing and duration of trips to sea. Cluster analyses using departure and arrival times revealed 5 distinct modes of foraging: 3 were strictly diurnal (early, mid-, and late) and 2 were partly nocturnal (overnight and extended). Durations of diurnal trips (4 to 11 h) were shorter than overnight (13 to 14 h) and extended trips (18 to 22 h). Early and mid-diurnal trips and extended trips were significantly shorter in 1993 than in 1994; late diurnal and overnight trip durations did not differ between years. Diurnal foraging was most common in 1993, whereas overnight foraging predominated in 1994. Shortened diurnal foraging in 1993 appears to have increased the frequency of diurnal foraging by allowing more parent birds to alternate diurnal trips within a single day and by reducing the incidence of birds extending diurnal foraging through the night. That penguins foraged more frequently by day when permitted by shorter trip durations (in 1993) suggests that they opted to forage diurnally whenever possible. Returning diurnal and overnight foragers had greater than 99 and 74 % Antarctic krill Euphausia superba by weight in their stomachs, respectively However, overnight foragers also returned with significant amounts of highly digested remains of pelagic fish, suggesting birds were in offshore waters taking fish during the night. In contrast, only 1 out of 40 diurnal foragers from both years combined had evidence of fish. Thus, the daily light cycle affected both the timing and duration of chinstrap penguin foraging as well as the type of prey consumed during trips to sea.