Plettenberg Bay, South Africa 21 June – 30 June 2024

Penguin Perspectives

An underwater world revealed by penguin-borne cameras

The foraging distribution of penguins have generally been well studied through the use of tracking devices. More recently though, we have been using small video cameras that can be deployed on penguins, to better understand their at-sea behaviour within their foraging ranges. This has yielded fascinating insights into the biology and behaviour of these birds. I will start this lecture by providing a broad overview of penguin taxonomy and ecology before detailing some of our research findings obtained through the deployment of small video cameras on penguins. This has enabled us to see how they perceive the underwater world and behave in relation to various circumstances. I will highlight observations of kleptoparasitism where individuals steal prey from each other while foraging at sea, as well as observations where prey clearly defend themselves by fighting back! I will furthermore show interactions of penguins in Antarctica with massive krill swarms. More locally, using underwater footage, I will demonstrate the importance of group foraging in African penguins. I will conclude by providing some of our recent research findings suggesting that penguins make use of underwater vocalization while foraging.


As a researcher in marine biology, Professor Pierre Pistorius integrates the fields of population and behavioural ecology with climate change science and resource management. His focus is largely on marine top predators such as seabirds, seals and dolphins, and ecosystem processes affecting these animals. Much of his research revolves around the use of penguins and other predators as ecological indicators, harnessing rapid technological advances in the field of biologging science – the deployment of miniaturised tracking devices and video cameras on study animals – to gain insight on behaviour and ecological interactions at sea. His goal is to feed results of this research back into conservation management. Since 1996, when he spent a year overwintering at Marion Island (South Africa’s sub-Antarctic base), he has been actively involved in studying marine mammals and seabirds. Following a PhD on the population ecology of Southern elephant seals, completed in 2001, he worked in Norway, the Seychelles (where he was based on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Aldabra Atoll for two years) and the Falkland Islands. In 2009 he joined Nelson Mandela University, where he is a Professor of Zoology, and founded and currently heads the Marine Apex Predator Research Unit (MAPRU; https://mapru.mandela.ac.za/). Pierre has authored over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers on marine predators, many involving global multi-disciplinary initiatives, and has gained significant insights into their ecology in the face of global change and their potential role in gauging ecosystem changes.

This event takes place on:

Friday 21 June

12:00 - 12:25