Penguins Given Antidepressants To Battle Tough Winter; How Climate Change Makes Them Miserable

By Ajit Jha on February 8, 2014 2:15 PM EST

penguin
A number of Humboldt penguins at the Sea Life Center in England are being given antidepressants to pick up their spirits after weeks of heavy winds and rain. (Photo: Beige Alert, CC BY 2.0)

The harsh winter can alter moods, upsetting not just humans but also the Humboldt penguins at the Sea Life Center in Scarborough, England. Hoping to lift their spirits and boost their immune systems, the penguins' trainers started giving them antidepressants, according to The Guardian. 

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Although extreme weather hardly dents the spirits of wild Humboldt penguins where they live on the coast of Peru and Chile, it gradually made the lives of those living at the Sea Life Center miserable, as the Center has recently been battered by constant heavy rain and wind. "After the first week out, [the] birds were just a bit subdued," curator Lyndsey Crawford told the Guzelian news agency, according to The Guardian, "but after over a month now, they are thoroughly fed-up and miserable, much like the rest of us."

The weather can impact penguins in captivity in several ways, and sometimes with severe consequences. They can become depressed and stressed, causing their bodies' natural defenses to weaken. Three years ago, the penguins became so stressed and frightened from being chased by a trespasser that their reproductive cycles were disrupted.

Recent studies regarding climate change's impact on penguins supports anecdotal evidence reporting how they are affected by harsh winters. According to a recent study by the University of Washington scientist P. Dee Boersma, Magellanic penguins in Punta tombo, Argentina are increasingly becoming the victims of intense storms. These storms have caused reproductive failure and even death, according to the study.

"Between 1983 and 2010 we followed 3,496 known-age Magellanic penguin chicks at Punta Tombo to determine how weather impacted their survival," the researchers wrote. "In two years, rain was the most common cause of death, killing 50 percent and 43 percent of chicks." The research also found that chicks died in storms in 13 of 28 years, and that heavier storms - heavier rainfall, lower temperature - caused the most deaths.  

The staff at the Sea Life Center maintain that penguins are more vulnerable to shock and depression than humans. Their symptoms of depression, which can be seen, have led the staff to begin administering antidepressants. And although the drugs are "doing the trick so far," Crawford said, the staff is praying for "at least a few successive days of sunshine to give the penguins the tonic they really need."

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