HotAIR - IG WINNER UPDATE-- Penguin Heads-Up


Penguin Heads-Up

Keeping up with the current work of past Ig Nobel Prize winners

by Alice Shirell Kaswell, AIR staff

The British Royal Navy, which won the 2000 Ig Nobel Peace Prize "for ordering its sailors to stop using live cannon shells, and to instead just shout 'Bang!'," is collaborating with scientists of the British Antarctic Survey. Here is the new research question of interest, as described by BBC correspondent Christine McGourty:

"It is something scientists say has been a long-standing joke in that part of the world for some time.

"The idea that when a helicopter or plane flies overhead, the whole colony look up, follow the line of flight with the head and then all tip over.

"The scientists say no-one has ever seen this happen," she added.

"They think it probably does not happen, but there may be more minor impacts."

The research has been prompted by fears that the penguins' breeding patterns may be disrupted by overflights. Royal Navy helicopters will fly over the colony at set altitudes and scientists using cameras on the ground will observe the penguins to see what effect, if any, is caused by the fly-by.

The Royal Navy's Ig Nobel Prize was accepted, on the Navy's behalf, by Nobel Laureate Richard Roberts at a ceremony on October 5. Roberts tells us that he is not involved in the penguin research project, but intends, now that he is aware of it, to follow the Navy's progress with keen interest.

A report in the November 2 issue of the Daily Telegraph explains the question which this research seeks to answer:

Dr Richard Stone, of the British Antarctic Survey, will spend four weeks videoing helicopters from the ice patrol ship Endurance as they buzz colonies of King Penguins on the island of South Georgia to discover what effect they have. Stuart Matthews, operations officer of the Endurance, believes the reports. He said: "The penguins always look up at the helicopters and follow them all the way until they fall over backwards."

But Dr Stone was more sceptical. He said: "I'm afraid it's an urban myth. Aircraft do have an effect on penguins, but not to the extent of birds falling over."

The good wishes of the entire* scientific community go with Dr. Stone and the Royal Navy

*Excepting of course the tiny minority who are jealous of any new initiative by others, as was evident with the project to put bar codes on the penguins.

(Thanks to numerous AIR readers for bringing this to our attention.)

© Copyright 2000 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)

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