Days of action

Penguin Research in Landau

Landau, 22 June 2020.

At the end of June, a research project on Humboldt penguins will start at the Landau Zoo. On behalf of SPHENISCO, Prof. Culik (, in cooperation with the University of Koblenz-Landau, will be testing a warning device to avoid by-catch. In long tests series the question has to be clarified if and how the penguins react to the acoustic warning signals. This scientific research project is generously supported by Vogelpark Marlow (, which is a member of SPHENISCO.

The warning device (PAL) was developed by Prof. Culik and successfully used to protect porpoises in the Baltic Sea. With the PAL the by-catch of porpoises could be reduced by 80%. At present, 2,500 warning devices are being used in Baltic Sea fisheries. In several other oceans the device is currently being tested.

As well as the Baltic porpoises, Humboldt penguins are also severely threatened. Like them, these penguins are - among other causes - severely decimated by unwanted by-catch in the gillnets off the coasts of Chile and Peru. The researchers and SPHENISCO now hope that the penguins at the Landau Zoo will react positively to the acoustic signals and be "warned". This could be the first step towards the reduction of by-catch in Humboldt penguins. If the results in Landau are positive, it is planned to test the warning device in the open field.



translated by Angelika Velken

Forschung PAL Forschung PAL Forschung PAL

How to strike the right TONE

- Penguin research at the Landau Zoo

Landau 20 October 2020.

At the end of June the search for a warning signal for Humboldt penguins began at the Landau Zoo. On behalf of SPHENISCO, various signals were to be tested to see if they were suitable for deterring Humboldt penguins in their natural habitat from swimming into fishermen's set nets and dying as unwanted "bycatch." The research project was conducted by marine scientist Prof. Culik, Kiel, in cooperation with the University of Landau (Prof. Dr. Entling). The project was generously supported by Vogelpark Marlow, which - like the Landau Zoo - is a member of SPHENISCO.

The students Sarah Bergemann, Jannis Bitzigeio and Ayla Seithe triggered different sound signals under water, observed and then recorded how the diving birds reacted to the different signals. In addition, the reactions were recorded by four cameras at the enclosure. Thanks to a dpa report, the research was widely reported regionally and nationally.

On 12 October, Prof. Culik presented an interim report on the progress and results of the study. The three students, staff and keepers of the Landau Zoo and the board of SPHENISCO discussed the results and tried to make a first evaluation. Out of the seven different signals, only one signal, the call of a pilot whale, produced significant results. Penguins are less likely to dive when they hear this call. However, based on the data available so far, it is premature to say whether this can be seen as fear or flight behavior. The penguins have grown up in captivity. Therefore, it is not yet possible to interpret whether this is genetically determined behavior. Zoo penguins are not aware of dangers like a whale. One would therefore have to check the pilot whale signal in the wild and confirm it there.

In further talks the results should be discussed further and the question should be clarified which further steps are possible and reasonable.


translated by Angelika Veelken


A weekend in Landau
... or a different kind of members meeting (once again)


Magdeburg 22th of July 2021.

The title already gives a hint: Pandemic and general assembly are not compatible! Also one „beak length“ distance, as I like to call it as a hobby penguinologist in reference to a well-known penguin researcher, is not a hundred per cent safety from a virus that has been influencing the lifes of all people in all countries for more than one and a half year.

In the hope of containing the pandemic, governments have imposed curfews, sometimes for months - also in Peru and Chile, the home of the Humboldt Penguin. The dangers threatening the penguins, however, existed and continue to exist: the (planned) construction of two ports for the mining industry, industrial fishing, pollution and overfishing of the seas and with it the endangerment of the penguins' habitat with its breeding and hunting grounds. But despite all the limitations and adversities, the tireless and courageous Sphenisco partners on site in Peru and Chile managed to adapt the efforts to protect the penguins to the current situation, to continue them and to involve the local population of all ages.

How I know that? Well, I have been interested in these wonderful, elegant-clever-cute animals for most of my life. There are „testimonies“ from my parents, as well as proof photos of me as a three year old girl beaming at the penguins in the zoo of my hometown. That I can spend hours and days blissfully observing the animals is no exaggeration (all those who know me better would confirm that!)

Being aware of the fact that the companions are not only cute but also endangered, worthy of protection and fascinating, I found my way to Sphenisco two years ago. Out of curiosity, conviction and to "have a look" at what "they" are doing. The answer: a whole lot! And with heart and soul. It really became clear to me on 27th of June 2020: my first Sphenisco members meeting. Due to the pandemic, it was held in online format (for the first time). I must admit that it was possibly an advantage for me, because the journey to Landau to a "bunch“ of people who were completely „unknown“ to me at the time was and is a journey across Germany. And it is absolutely worth it! In no time at all I realised this on that Saturday afternoon more than a year ago. There were people sitting in front of their computers who, as different as they were (or are), know quite a lot about (Humboldt-) penguins. And in the most sympathetic way possible: comprehensible, open-minded, committed. As insiders, because they observe and research the animals in zoos, animal parks and/or on the coasts and in the waters of South America. With and without a biology degree or doctorate. Interests counts. So I was or am exactly right at Sphenisco. And because it was so clear, it was also certain that my life partner and I would personally attend the members meeting in Landau in 2021.

However, a pandemic is not over just like that: vaccination, distance, ventilation, low incidence, ... or not. And so the board of directors made the decision at the beginning of June, certainly with a heavy heart: there would also be an online general meeting in 2021. But by then I had already booked a small holiday flat and travelling was possible. So in the morning of 24th of June, my life partner and I boarded the intercity train towards Landau. The "heart" of Sphenisco was of course informed and everyone was looking forward to the possibility of a joint meeting and also getting to know each other personally in threes or fours.

First we got an impression of Landau on our own initiative. We wandered extensively through the pretty city centre, adjacent parks where bird watching is excellent, the university campus and finally stood in front of the zoo. For the visit we had planned the whole Friday (and also Sunday), because from experience we are both very patient observers. And a whole lot of animals can be observed: from the tiny short-eared elephant shrew, to the socorro dove, palawan porcupines, philippine spotted deer, numerous primate species, benett kangaroos, the siberian tiger and a species of dwarf antelope with the curious name kirk's dwarf dikdik. Numerous lovingly designed information boards about the animals, the influence of humans on their (survival-) lifes and the importance of species conservation projects meander through the zoo and accompany the visitors. At the same time, numerous (pleasantly shaded) benches invite you to linger. Curator Christina invited us on a little tour of the zoo. We were allowed to say „hello“ to the friendly dromedaries in person and were provided with a bucket of crunchy fresh carrots, which the troop eat straight from our hands. Afterwards we went quickly (back) to the penguins, where we were already awaited by one of christina's colleagues, who is very familiar with the Landauer penguins. In his hands: an almost newly hatched, small, fluffy penguin with a huge head, just like all penguin chicks have. While the keeper was checking the condition of the tiny animal, we stood right next to it, affected and amazed. After the chick was returned to its sceptical parents in the nest, there was time for a chat with lots of insider information from the life of a keeper and that of the Landau penguins. A big thank you for this!

Friday evening, one day before the members meeting, we were invited to Gabriele and Werner Knauf's house. First live meeting, so to speak. A wonderful opportunity to end the day in pleasant temperatures with fresh air and a view of the beautiful garden with a glass of penguin wine and to get into conversation. Werner encouraged us to ask our questions the next day at the members meeting. And of course we had questions.

In advance, the board of directors had already summarised the most important activities, developments, results and progress of the last association year in short videos that were available to all members. It is hard for us to imagine the preparation time and excitement that must have gone into selecting the best images, video and sound sequences, interviewing collaborators in South America and New Zealand against a backdrop of considerable time difference and writing the most important information with precision. And there was no lack of excitement at Gabriele and Werner's on the eve of the online meeting: please let the technology work!

It did that perfectly. More and more small windows with known and partly for us still unknown faces opened in the meeting portal. Nancy, a committed environmental activist and close cooperation partner of Sphenisco, was also present from chile. I am deeply impressed by her work with the people on the ground and her approachable, serious and persistent manner. For her, protecting the environment seems to be the big picture she is concerned about. People and animals, the Humboldt Penguins, are a part of it. If we humans (even in seemingly distant europe) treat what nature has in store with respect, then there is enough safe living space and fresh food for every creature. It is so simple.

Research is also an important topic for and at Sphenisco. It's hard to believe that there are so many things we humans still don't know about (Humboldt) penguins. What do the animals do for days and months in the sea when they are not breeding? Very clearly: eat. But what else? Where do they swim to? What influence do humans have on their routes? How do they communicate with each other? How does the penguin actually know where it is or where it is supposed to go? Maybe there are sounds that keep penguins from dying as unwanted bycatch in fishing nets? Which research projects does Sphenisco continue to support? ... questions upon questions. The penguin researcher Klemens Pütz was with us again this year and was able to answer several questions. The scientists from the projects in New Zealand and Chile who were not present were excellently represented by the board of directors. If a question could not be answered, it was clear: not yet or being researched.

By the way: as soon as someone asks a question, suddenly many questions, topics and ideas come up that want to be asked and discussed. To everyone's surprise, the planned time frame was significantly exceeded. So in the end, it was not the technology that collapsed, but the members who fell off their chairs with their heads spinning. Well, it wasn't quite like that. But it is clear to everyone: there is much to discuss, explore and do. Best together and with each other. Next year for the discussion of the situation hopefully in person on the fourth Saturday of June in Landau. We will be there!... And until then, do what we can in the here and now, be mindful, make responsible (consumption-) choices and share the fascination for penguins.

K. B.

translated by Claudia Wirth

Look Penguin chick Poolpingus

World Penguin Day – Panorama 2019

Hannover 11. May 2019.

On April 25th I said to my colleagues, “Today is World Penguin Day.” One of my colleagues started to laugh and said, “Well, I’ll be darned!” Another colleague then said, “Then let us celebrate, as long as there still are some penguins!” That took my breath away. In order for us – and naturally also our children and grandchildren – to be able to share the planet with such cute companions, we definitely have to do something.

The fact that World Penguin Day is celebrated specifically on April 25th is no coincidence. That is the first day of winter in the southern hemisphere, on which the sun no longer shines over the horizon and the dark time of the year in the Antarctic begins. Scientists from the American McMurdo Research Station have observed that the Adélie penguins meet at exactly the same place every year on April 25th, in order to collectively swim to the north and spend the next months in the ocean. Thus was this day established and is now celebrated globally as World Penguin Day. That’s fascinating, isn’t it?

Sphenisco Flyer now in French

Landau 6. January 2019.

As of the end of last year, Sphenisco’s flyer „Humboldt Penguins Need International Help“, is also available in French: „Les manchots de Humboldt ont besoin de votre aide“. It sounds dramatic, but it truly is a work of international efforts. The flyer was translated into French by Felicitas Le Saint (France), it was proofread by Nathalie Mersch (Luxembourg), the layout done by Karliese Greiner-Laurie (New York City, USA), it was printed in Germany and delivered in December to the Parc Merveilleux, in Luxembourg. The fairy tale and amusement park in Bettembourg is the only one in the entire grand duchy of Luxembourg and is visited by approximately 260,000 people each year..


Translated by Erich Greiner

World Penguin Day at the Zoo with Sphenisco – Protection of the Humboldt Penguin e.V.

Landau, May 2, 2019
Did you know that April 25th is actually World Penguin Day? Even if it’s not generally known why this date was chosen and in what year it was first celebrated, the environmental group “Sphenisco – Schutz des Humboldt-Pinguins, e.V.” (founded in 2008 in Landau, Germany) sees this day as a very good opportunity to call people’s attention to the fact that the Humboldt Penguin’s main distribution area in Chile is doing extremely badly, and that on this day the Humboldt Penguin should be moved into the public’s focus! That was reason enough this year for the Landau Zoo and Sphenisco to use the First of May (a federal holiday) solely to send a signal out for the Penguins.
At the information and participation stand at the Landau Zoo, not just the little guests were able to learn many fascinating things about penguins. Who is who among the 18 different species of penguins that are distributed from New Zealand to Africa, and from there to South America in the southern hemisphere? Why is the Humboldt Penguin so threatened and what can each individual do in order to protect this species?

The motto of the day was “Turn the Zoo Guests into Species Protectors”. During both commented feedings, tips were given on how to buy sustainably-caught fish, how to avoid purchasing fertilizer with guano, and how to reduce plastic packaging. For overfishing, ocean pollution, the harvesting of guano on the breeding islands of the penguins and the therewith connected disturbances, as well as climate change are to blame for why the Humboldt Penguin is on the “Red List”. For many years, Sphenisco and its partners in Chile and Peru have been committed to setting up a marine protection area in the penguins’ main breeding area, located in northern Chile, in order to ensure the survival of the Humboldt Penguin.

Sphenisco 2020 General Assembly - international and intercontinental


Landau 28 June 2020.

Traditionally, the annual general meeting of SPHENISCO takes place on the last Saturday in June. In recent years, many members have not spared themselves a long journey to participate in the event at the Landau Zoo School. However, almost all members and cooperative partners from Peru, Chile and Argentina have never been there. This year however, they were; albeit "only" electronically. The Corona pandemic made it necessary to forgo a physical meeting. Technology nevertheless made it possible to unite a total of 33 members and employees of Sphenisco on the computer screen or on the telephone, and have the conference in order to hold the general meeting, as well as conduct the election of the board of directors and internal auditors. The reports about the activities of the association had been previously made available on the internet to all members of the association as video presentations. In the videoconference on June 28th, these reports were summarized and put up for discussion. In addition, current and planned projects were presented, and requests and proposals formulated. The existing board consisting of 1st Chairman Gabriele Knauf, 2nd Chairman Dr. Christina Schubert and Treasurer Klaus Blumer was unanimously reelected for the next three years, as were the two auditors Susanne Janz and Reinhold Knauber. The Board would like to thank you for the trust placed in them! Overall, conversations and discussions were much less detailed and lively than at the joint meetings previously held "live" on the ground. Nevertheless, "Zoom" offers an alternative, especially for SPHENISCO. In the next few years, a video circuit could complement the annual general meeting in vivo, allowing members to participate without having to make their way to Landau. A special thank you goes out to Katja Resch for the technical assistance with "Zoom", in the course of the preparation for the meeting!

Dr. Christina Schubert

translated by Erich Greiner

10 Years Sphenisco e.V. – Has the Work Been Worth It?

Hannover 10. July 2018.
For quite some time, a regular part of our plan for the year has been Sphenisco’s annual assembly on the last weekend in June.
How did it come to that? After returning from a trip to Antarctica and sensitized to penguins, we discovered a flyer from Sphenisco e.V. at the Penguin Museum in Cuxhaven. After we read through Sphenisco’s website, we requested admittance to the organization. Although we didn’t see any Humboldt Penguins in Antarctica, we figured this is about the entire species, is it not?
What drives us to drive to the Pfalz once a year, during the best summer weather, to sit at the school at the Landau Zoo and hear what was can be done for the Humboldt Penguin, so that they do not lose their habitat?


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