Collapse of South Africa's penguins in the early 21st century

[No Value] Crawford R. J. M.;, [No Value] Altwegg R.;, PJ Barham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


The number of African penguins Spheniscus demersus breeding in South Africa collapsed from about 56 000 pairs in 2001 to some 21 000 pairs in 2009, a loss of 35 000 pairs (>60%) in eight years. This reduced the global population to 26 000 pairs, when including Namibian breeders, and led to classification of the species as Endangered. In South Africa, penguins breed in two regions, the Western Cape and Algoa Bay (Eastern Cape), their breeding localities in these regions being separated by c. 600 km. Their main food is anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus and sardine Sardinops sagax, which are also the target of purse-seine fisheries. In Algoa Bay, numbers of African penguins halved from 21 000 pairs in 2001 to 10 000 pairs in 2003. In the Western Cape, numbers decreased from a mean of 35 000 pairs in 2001–2005 to 11 000 pairs in 2009. At Dassen Island, the annual survival rate of adult penguins decreased from 0.70 in 2002/2003 to 0.46 in 2006/2007; at Robben Island it decreased from 0.77 to 0.55 in the same period. In both the Western and Eastern Cape provinces, long-term trends in numbers of penguins breeding were significantly related to the combined biomass of anchovy and sardine off South Africa. However, recent decreases in the Western Cape were greater than expected given a continuing high abundance of anchovy. In this province, there was a south-east displacement of prey around 2000, which led to a mismatch in the distributions of prey and the western breeding localities of penguins.
Translated title of the contributionCollapse of South Africa's penguins in the early 21st century
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-156
Number of pages18
JournalAfrican Journal of Marine Science
Issue number1
Early online date10 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • African penguin, diet, numbers breeding, numbers moulting, Spheniscus, survival

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