Testing Technology with the Woodland Park Zoo

Bubba testing the weightbridge

Since 2015, we have deployed automatic weighbridges to track the foraging success of Magellanic penguins at one of their largest breeding colonies – Punta Tombo, Argentina. These weighbridges weigh penguins noninvasively as they leave the nesting area to forage and when they return to feed their chicks. This helps us track whether these penguins are finding enough food for themselves and their chicks. With new fishing effort data made available with satellite technology, we are excited to start working on how fishing and ocean conditions affect penguin foraging. 

After all of these years in the harsh Patagonian environment (high winds, pouring rain, extreme temperatures) the weighbridges needed a tune-up. Thanks to a volunteer engineer, Alex Mykyta, we were able to perform maintenance on the scales and test their accuracy in the lab. We can only do so much in the lab though, as the weighbridge software accounts for a penguin’s gait. We partnered with the Woodland Park Zoo to do some more robust testing using live penguins. 

In December 2023, zoo keepers and staff helped us walk Bubba and Julio, a couple of their beloved Humboldt penguins, across the weighbridges. Bubba and Julio were rewarded with fish and we found the weighbridges were weighing accurately! In January and February 2024, lab members deployed the weighbridges at Punta Tombo to track how much food adults were bringing back to their chicks. In these two months we recorded over 20,000 penguin weights!

Many thanks to the Woodland Park Zoo (especially the penguin keepers and the penguins – Bubba and Julio) for helping us test technology used in the wild to help monitor and conserve these important animals.

Bubba the penguin waddling by the scales.
Bubba was a great help to our research team!
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