It's official, a recently published paper in the journal Polar Biology, confirms what many of us have long suspected—there is more than one species of rockhopper penguin out there!
For many years debates have raged with many an ornithologist having his feathers ruffled on the topic to split or not to split. The recent paper, by Banks et al. compared the genetic distances between the three rockhopper subspecies and compared them with such sister species as macaroni penguins. The results left Banks and his colleagues in no doubt, the three putative rockhopper subspecies, currently living far apart in different areas of the Southern oceans, should be split into the following three species;
Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome
Northern Rockhopper, Eudyptes moseleyi
Eastern Rockhopper, Eudyptes filhoi
This change in penguin taxonomy will now increase the number of penguin species from 17 to 19. For all of you that have traveled to Antarctica, you will have seen rockhopper penguins as this is the species that is now restricted, as a breeding species, to islands off South America and the Falkland Islands. For those of you lucky enough to have traveled with Zegrahm on our historical Steppingstones of the Atlantic voyage, several years ago, you will now be able to check off northern rockhopper penguins, as this was the species that we all saw so wonderfully well on Inaccessible Island, now restricted to the islands of Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, and St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands in the Indian Ocean. Finally we have the eastern rockhopper penguin which is restricted as a breeding species to Crozet, Kerguelan, Heard, Macquarie, Auckland, Campbell, Bounty, Antipodes, Marion, and Prince Edward Islands.
If you need to catch up with any of these new rockhopper penguin species you should check our website for upcoming trips to Antarctica and New Zealand. We have no plans at the moment to go to the Tristan da Cunha group but we will be making several visits to the Cape Horn area and to the Falkland Islands. You can also join us in the New Zealand region which has more penguin species than anywhere else on earth. We plan to visit the Sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand in December of 2008. This voyage will bring us close to some of the most difficult-to-see penguin species in the world. Species will include little blue penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, erect-crested penguin, eastern rockhopper penguin, and perhaps even the world's rarest penguin the Fiordland penguin.
Also on the drawing board, we are putting together a voyage in 2009 that will take us from Fiji across to the Kermadec Islands and then on to mainland New Zealand before ending at the Chatham Islands, home to countless thousands of seabirds including endemic albatrosses and penguins. Very few people ever get to the Kermadec and Chatham Islands, indeed those two island groups will also be first-time visits for Zegrahm. If that sounds appealing get your name down on the interest list as quickly as you can as our two trips to the Kermadec and Chatham Islands in 2009 are sure to sell out quickly.