Do Penguins Watching JetsTopple?

Do penguins fall over backwards when watching aircraft fly overhead?

Two British scientists are traveling to South Georgia in the south Atlantic to find answers to that question and others from a study of the island’s 400,000 King Penguins.

Falling Over Backwards

Scientists have usually been skeptical about reports of penguins falling over backwards to watch aircraft flying above them.

But a senior officer on the British navy ship HMS Endurance, which is taking the scientific team to South Georgia, said he believed the reports.

“The penguins always look up at the helicopters and follow them all the way until they fall over backwards,” Stuart Matthews, the ship’s operations officer, told the Daily Telegraph.

Aircraft May Disrupt Breeding

Dr Richard Stone of the British Antarctic Survey said that scientists were concerned that low-flying aircraft could cause stress among penguins and affect their breeding performance.

“There may be an increase in heart rate as helicopters fly over,” Stone said.

“The worst possible effect is that there would be a reduction in their breeding performance. If they were incubating eggs this could be quite devastating for them.”

Stone said helicopters from HMS Endurance would fly at different altitudes over the penguins to help in the research.