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Status of Disease in the Emperor Penguins of Auster Rookery
Entry ID: ASAC_2954

Abstract: Metadata record for data from ASAC Project 2954.
See the link below for public details on this project.

The primary goal of this project is to determine the status and origin of diseases in Emperor Penguins at Auster Rookery near Mawson Station, Antarctica. We will investigate the origins of such disease and the role humans may have played. We will sample adults and chicks in order to isolate and describe the pathogens. A high percentage of Emperor Penguin chicks have antibodies to infectious bursal disease (IBDV). This study will investigate the role the adults play in transmitting IBDV to their chicks. The high prevalence of IBDV antibodies should help us to isolate the virus and discover its origin.

Project objectives:
Status of Disease in the Emperor Penguins of Auster Rookery

1) To determine the prevalence of disease in adult Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) at Auster Rookery. Over 65% of Emperor Penguin chicks at Auster Rookery had serum antibodies to Infectious Bursal Disease Virus (IBDV) in December 1995 (Gardner et al. 1997). We have no information on the presence of the same antibodies on adult Emperor Penguins. We will focus on IBDV, but will also test for other common avian diseases.

2) To repeat the sampling of Emperor Penguin Chicks by Gardner et al. (1997) in order to compare the prevalence of IBDV in Emperor Penguin chicks in 2008 with 1995.

3) To determine the seasonal progression of IBDV antibody prevalence in both adults and chicks.

4) To determine the possible source(s) of viral infection in Emperor Penguin chicks. Because Gardner et al. (1997) had no information on adult Emperor Penguins we do not know how the chicks are exposed to IBDV. Gardner et al. (1997) suggested that poultry waste from the nearby Mawson Station may be a source of virus for the Emperor Penguin chicks. Penguins do not scavenge food, however, so the source of infection must be either from the environment, local predators/scavenger, or from parents feeding their young. By sampling both adults and chicks in different parts of the season, we will determine when antibodies first appear in the chicks. If they have antibodies in the early season, then scavengers/predators can not account for their exposure to IBDV.

5) To determine the source of the IBDV. We will attempt to isolate virus from Emperor Penguins in order to identify the strains responsible for the antibody reactions in Emperor Penguins. Using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), we will sequence genes from the virus which can be compared with known gene sequences from serotypes available from GenBank.

6) To monitor the chick mortality and conduct field necropsies of the Emperor Penguins at the Auster colony to determine whether IBDV or other diseases are a factor in reproductive success.

7) To contribute to a conservation strategy for Antarctic wildlife. By developing information on the importance and origins of disease in Emperor Penguins we can clarify the role of human visitors in the transmission of disease in Antarctic wildlife.

Progress against objectives:
Excellent progress has been made towards all the stated goals.

By spending the winter of 2008 at Mawson Station we had access to the emperor penguin colony at Auster. We successfully sampled 400 adults and 200 chicks as stated in the proposal. We now have the samples back in Australia and analyses are beginning. No sample analysis for disease could be undertaken while still in Antarctica.

The samples will 1) give us a determination of the prevalence of IBDV antibodies (also some other disease viruses) for both adults and chicks. 2) One of our sampling periods was a repeat of the sampling conducted by Gardner et al. so we can compare the prevalence of IBDV antibodies in chicks from 2 different years and relate that to the prevalence in adults. 4) We conducted our sampling at four different times during the winter so that we were able to sample chicks before any other species visited the colony, then sample them again 6 weeks after skuas and giant petrels were in the area. 5) In order to determine the source of IBDV we want to determine its RNA sequence. To that end, a full set of samples have been sent to Dr. Daral Jackwood at Ohio State University, a colleague and IBDV expert. He has just begun to analyse the samples to isolate and sequence the IBDV RNA. 6) We monitored chick mortality with visits to the colony on average once per week. We noted approximately 800 dead chicks and collected 120 of the chicks for field necropsies. They mostly died of starvation with a few exceptions. We found parasites in one dead chick. We also collected 9 carcasses of adult emperor penguins. Eight of the 9 were females who all died with complications of egg laying. 7) This goal will require the completion of all the analyses for us to make conservation recommendations.

This collection of files represents the data (including samples) collected for Project 2954 on Emperor Penguins.

This project was based on collecting samples from Emperor penguins throughout the winter season. There were 5 sets of samples.
1-Adults during courtship in May
2-Adults during hatch period in early August
3-Chicks at ca 5 weeks of age--soon after leaving the constant care of their parents
4- Adults in early summer (mid-November)
5-Chicks in early summer (late November)

Sampling at these intervals it was hoped we would be able to discriminate when or how the IBD antibodies appear in this population.

The files are:
1) Project 2954-Emperor IBD Antibodies PrevalenceSummary
This is a summary file of all the Virus Neutralization tests to determine the presence of antibodies to Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD) in the 5 groups of Emperor Penguins.

2) Project 2954-Emperor IBD summary graph
This is a graphical representation of the summary information for IBDV antibodies

3) Project 2954-Emperor Penguin Egg Samples-2008
This is a listing of the abandoned eggs collected over the winter. The eggs were weighed and measured. Many were sampled. We took 5ml of yolk and stored the samples in -80 C for future analysis.

4) Project 2954-Emperor Penguin sampling2008
This is the master file of sampling. Each penguin we handled was given a sample identification (but no permanent identifying marks). Each was weighed, measured, inspected for ticks and samples taken. This file identifies which samples were obtained. In addition it represents some analyses. The sexes of many of the penguins have been determined genetically with PCR. That is included in the file.

5) Project 2954-Emperor Penguin Serology NDV and AI 2008
This file is a listing of all the serum samples and the results of Hemagglutination Inhibition test (HAI) for antibodies to Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV) and an antibody ELISA test for Avian Influenza. No sign of any exposure to NDV or AI in Emperor penguins.

6) Project 2954-Disease Status Poster-Peng Conf 2010
This Powerpoint file is a single oversized page that presents much of the results that we have to date. It was presented at the 7th International Conference on the Biology of Penguins, in Boston USA, Sept 2010

7) Project 2954-Searching for IBDV in Emperors with RT-PCR
This MS WORD file is the summary of methods and results of testing tissue samples from chick carcasses found at the colony. Bursa and spleen tissue was preserved and sent to Daral Jackwood in Ohio USA. He conducted real time Reverse Transcriptase PCR on the samples to try to find the IBD virus. That is essential for the full identification of the source of antibodies in these penguins. Unfortunately all results were all negative. We hope with a new proposal to expand our testing to find this virus.

Related URL
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Description: Download point for the data

Link: View Related Information
Description: Public information for ASAC project 2954

Link: View Related Information
Description: Download point for the publications - AAD staff only

Link: View Related Information
Description: Citation reference for this metadata record and dataset.

Geographic Coverage
 N: -67.6 S: -67.61  E: 62.88  W: 62.87

Data Set Citation
Dataset Creator: Shellam, G.
Dataset Title: Status of Disease in the Emperor Penguins of Auster Rookery
Dataset Series Name: CAASM Metadata
Dataset Release Date: 2011-12-15
Dataset Publisher: Australian Antarctic Data Centre
Online Resource:

Temporal Coverage
Start Date: 2007-09-30
Stop Date: 2008-03-31

Location Keywords

Science Keywords

FIELD SURVEYS    [Information]
LABORATORY    [Information]

Values provided in temporal and spatial coverage are approximate only.

Taken from the 2008-2009 Progress Report:
Field work:
Field work was completed in the 2008 winter at Mawson Station. All the sample collections took place at Auster Emperor Penguin Colony 60 kms ENE of Mawson Station. The 3 formal sampling periods were: 1) 16-31 May 2008, 100 adults; 2) 1-16 August 2008 200 adults (hopefully 100 males and 100 females; 3) 28 Aug - 2 Sept 2008, 100 young chicks; 4) 16-27 November, 100 adults (mixed sexes) and 100 chicks. In addition, we visited the colony for checks on mortality every week.

The field work progressed smoothly and almost exactly to schedule. each sampling period had one-half to 2 days delays or interruptions due to weather. Sampling was completed on 27 November 2008 and we departed Mawson on 9 December with all samples frozen or preserved.

Laboratory activity/analysis:
During the winter at Mawson, we sampled the yolks of 100 abandoned eggs for future analysis for maternal antibodies and/or stable isotope profiles. In addition, we conducted field (lab-based) necropsies on 120 chicks and 9 adults which were collected as carcasses. In doing those, we collected bursa and spleen tissues from the chicks to be used to attempt virus isolation of IBDV.

Now, all the blood serum and swab samples have been returned to Australia. sets of sample shave been sent to colleagues for separate analyses. Our expectation is for:

1) IBDV extraction and RT-PCR sequence analysis to be completed by late 2009 by Dr. Daral Jackwood, Ohio State University.
2) Serology on blood serum samples for IBD, Newcastle disease, avian influenza to be conducted by Dr Gary Miller (co-CI) at WA Department of Agriculture virology lab by the end of 2009.
3) Stable isotope analyses of blood samples to investigate food resources will be conducted by Dr. Mark Hindell, UTas by late 2009
4) Targeted search for specific bacterial pathogens in samples using PCR to be conducted by Dr Gary Miller by the end of 2009.
5) Final collation and analysis of all observational data (mortalities, colony counts, subject weights and measurements etc) to be completed by late 2009.

Difficulties affecting project:
Potentially serious problems did occur with shipping conditions for samples. We were meant to leave Mawson Station in mid-December on the Aurora Australis which has adequate freezers on board to cope with our -70 sample requirements. Then the scheduled changed to a departure form Davis with a helicopter (or by CASA aircraft) link to Davis. Resupply to Mawson to be completed by the Amderma--a Russian ship with no laboratory facilities or ultracold freezers. That forced us to transport the samples from Mawson to Davis by helicopter before departing on the AA. I believe we worked this out satisfactorily, but the shipping was not up to the standard that we should expect. We needed more cargo space to move the samples in a dry shipper--the best way to transport samples at -70-- or facilities to produce dry ice on station to ship the samples in conventional eskies.

Access Constraints
These data are publicly available for download from the provided URL.

Copies of the referenced publications are available for download to AAD staff only from the provided URL.

Use Constraints
This data set conforms to the PICCCBY Attribution License (

Please follow instructions listed in the citation reference provided at when using these data.

Emperor Penguins

Data Set Progress

Originating Center
Australian Antarctic Division

Data Center
Australian Antarctic Data Centre, Australia    [Information]
Data Center URL:

Data Center Personnel
Phone: +61 3 6232 3244
Fax: +61 3 6232 3351
Email: metadata at
Contact Address:
Australian Antarctic Division
203 Channel Highway
City: Kingston
Province or State: Tasmania
Postal Code: 7050
Country: Australia

Distribution_Media: HTTP
Distribution_Size: 8 MB
Distribution_Format: Excel, Word, Powerpoint
Fees: Free

Distribution_Media: HTTP
Distribution_Size: 13 MB
Distribution_Format: pdf
Fees: Free

Contact Address:
Department of Microbiology
The Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre
University of Western Australia
City: Nedlands
Province or State: Western Australia
Postal Code: 6009
Country: Australia

Phone: +61 3 6221 5038 (international)
Phone: (03) 6221 5038 (within Australia)
Fax: +61 3 6221 5050 (international)
Fax: (03) 6221 5050 (within Australia)
Email: Alicja.Mosbauer at
Contact Address:
National Oceans Office
GPO Box 2139
City: Hobart
Province or State: Tasmania
Postal Code: 7000

Woods R., Jones H.I., Watts J., Miller G.D., Shellam G.R. (2009), Diseases of Antarctic seabirds, In: Kerry K.R., Riddle M.J. Health of Antarctic Wildlife: A Challenge for Science and Policy, 35-56

Watts J.M., Miller G.D., Shellam G.R. (2009), Infectious bursal disease virus and Antarctic birds, In: Kerry K.R., Riddle M.J. Health of Antarctic Wildlife: A Challenge for Science and Policy, 95-106

Kerry K.R., Irvine L., Beggs A., Watts J. (2009), An unusual mortality event among Adelie penguins in the vicinity of Mawson Station, Antarctica, In: Kerry K.R., Riddle M.J. Health of Antarctic Wildlife: A Challenge for Science and Policy, 107-112
Extended Metadata Properties
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Creation and Review Dates
DIF Creation Date: 2008-02-24
Last DIF Revision Date: 2017-08-24