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Dr Richard Stone, British Antarctic Survey
"At the moment, any...information that we have is anecdotal"
 real 28k

The BBC's Christine McGourty
Penguins look up and then fall over
 real 28k

Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 03:01 GMT
Navy probes penguin puzzle
Penguins PA
Watching the skies could be bad for your balance
UK scientists are heading to the South Atlantic with the intention of solving an unusual penguin puzzle.

The researchers want to discover if there is any truth in the tale that the birds will fall over backwards when they watch aircraft flying overhead.

British naval helicopters will help test the theory in a study of 400,000 king penguins on the island of South Georgia.

The research has been prompted by fears that the penguins' breeding patterns may be disrupted by aircraft activity.

Dr Richard Stone of the British Antarctic Survey will lead the research project, which will be based on board the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance.

Egg danger

He believes this particular penguin story is a myth, although he does accept that noisy, low-flying aircraft could upset the penguins when they are breeding on land.

"There is no evidence they actually do fall over backwards," he told the BBC.

"We're going out there to look at the effects of aircraft operations on the penguin population of South Georgia and the idea is to come up with guidelines that will allow the helicopters to fly in a way that will have a minimal effect on the penguins that are there.

"At the moment, the only evidence we have of detrimental effects is anecdotal. There is a suggestion that the birds will increase their movement when they get flown over at a low height. This can make them run away and could obviously endanger their eggs."

The BAS team will video penguins as helicopters fly over at different altitudes. The recordings will then be analysed back the survey's Cambridge headquarters.

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See also:

07 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
P-p-p-pick out a penguin
26 Feb 98 | Asia-Pacific
Pick up a penguin
05 Dec 98 | Americas
Penguins in peril
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