a1 Australian Antarctic Division, Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia
Increases in the number of people travelling to Antarctica has led to more frequent interactions between people and Antarctic wildlife, yet the effects of visitation on the animals has received limited scientific assessment. This study conducted experiments to measure the responses of incubating Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) to controlled human approaches to determine which approach distances and approach styles caused the least disturbance to the birds. Three minimum approach distances were tested: 30, 15, and 5 m. Approaching penguins to 30 m had no measurable effect on either their behaviour or heart rate, while approaching as close as 15 m significantly elevated their heart rates above resting, undisturbed levels even though there was no behavioural indication of this response. Approaching penguins to 5 m significantly interrupted the penguins' incubation behaviour, with the potential to cause egg-cooling. Approaches to 5 m elevated heart rates above those measured when birds were undisturbed, approached to either 15 or 30 m, or exposed to ‘natural’ disturbances (that is, other penguins or south polar skuas, Catheracta maccormicki). The study also identified certain Adelie penguin behaviours that may be indicative of disturbance in response to human visitation. People visiting breeding penguins could learn to identify these behaviours, so they can monitor and modify any effects of their visit.
(Received August 1997)