South American penguin found in Alaska waters

Posted: Thursday, August 01, 2002

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- A Southeast Alaska fisherman came up with a novel item in his net earlier this month -- a Humboldt penguin.

Fishing vessel captain Guy Demmert told KRBD in Ketchikan that the crew pulled up the penguin with some fish on July 18 about noon near Noyes Island off the coast of Prince of Wales Island.

''He was trapped in the net and just swimming around and my nephew saw it and asked 'Gee what kind of bird is that?''' Demmert said.

He said the bag of fish, and the penguin, was pulled aboard. The penguin, which stood about 20 inches tall, appeared uninjured as it began waddling around the deck of the boat.

''The rails are high enough on the boat that it just couldn't hop off. It was really scared. It was just kind of shaken,'' he said.

A crew member grabbed a camera and began taking pictures.

Guy Demmert's cousin, Steve Demmert, was fishing nearby.

''He called up and said, 'Hey, I just caught a penguin' and I said 'no way' and he said 'Yeah I'll come out show you,''' Steve Demmert said.

''Sure enough there was the little guy wobbling around on deck. Or actually it was kind of cowering over by the railing. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.''

The crew began trying to figure out how to get the penguin back in the water.

''Anytime we got real close to it, it just wanted to snap at us to protect itself,'' he said.

After about a half hour, the penguin calmed down enough so that one of the crew could pick it up and throw it overboard. The penguin surfaced about 50 yards away.

Dee Boersma, a professor of zoology at the University of Washington, talked to the fishermen herself later in the month. She said it's possible the penguin came to Alaska waters by boat from Peru or Chile, where the birds reside.

''It seems highly unlikely they swam up here,'' Boersma said. ''They get moved. It's quite possible I suppose that it got on somebody's boat and they brought it up from off the coast.''

Three penguins were also sighted off Vancouver Island in 1978. Since the birds live to an average of 30 years, it is possible they are the same penguins, said Boersma. There also have been lots of reports of penguins in British Columbia.

A penguin could survive in southeast Alaska for some time as long as it stays in the water, she said.

''If you've got a lot of herring around there, he'll probably do just fine until he tries to go to nest on one of those islands because one of the problems for these guys will be predators. And so, bears -- they would be happy to eat any penguins that you have around.''

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