Wayward penguins in Brazil ship out to Patagonia




A penguin is bathed by a member of the NGO SOS Fauna Marina in the department Maldonado, Uruguay. Fifty Magellanic penguins were rescued after arriving to the coasts of Maldonado, 140 km away from Montevideo, soaked in petrol.

Credit: AFP/Miguel Rojo

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RIO DE JANEIRO: Thirty-one penguins stranded on the balmy Brazilian coast were loaded to a ship Tuesday in the first step of a journey to return them south to their natural habitat in Patagonia.

The ship will take three days to transport the group of Magellanic penguins to Brazil's southern border with Argentina, where the birds will rest for a week to gather their strength to complete the voyage.

Once ready, biologists plan to release them to the ocean in the hope they will ride ocean currents the rest of the way to Patagonia.

On Saturday 399 penguins washed up, exhausted, on the beaches of Brazil's Salvador de Bahia in July, were flown 3,219 km (2,000 miles) south by a Brazilian Air Force jet.

The cruise treatment for the 31 penguins takes longer, "but should allow them to better adapt to their return to nature," according to Gisela Candiotto, director of Niteroi Zoo, where the birds have been recooping.

By ship they will be able to "smell the salt water," said Candiotto.

The Magellanic Penguin, the largest of warm weather penguins, breeds mostly in Patagonia, the cool southern reaches of South America divided between the south of Argentina and of Chile.

They normally migrate north between March and September, following fish that travel north with the warm waters.

This year the penguins went much further north than usual because of warmer than normal ocean currents.