Archive: The "Treasure" Oil Spill, June 2000

Pamela Found at Dassen Island

Cape Times, Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Island stake-out succeeds in retrieving 'backpack' from Pamela, the elusive penguin

Melanie Gosling Environment writer

     Penguin Pamela, the satellite-tagged bird that has evaded being captured since she arrived back on Dassen Island off the West Coast in July, has finally been nabbed and her expensive satellite "backpack" removed.
     Johan Visagie, student ranger for Western Cape Nature Conservation, which manages the island, said on Tuesday they had been told by Marine and Coastal Management staff last week that Pamela was back on the island.
     Although she had returned from her 22-day swim from Port Elizabeth on July 25, Pamela was spotted on Dassen Island only once, but she took to the sea before Visagie was able to catch her and retrieve her R20 000 transmitter.
     After that, the computer blips showed tha Pamela was at sea for weeks, swimming as far east as Cape Infanta.
     There were fears that the glue holding the transmitter onto her feathers would come unstuck and the equipment would be lost.

Pamela and the satellite transmitter seen here in a group of penguins at Dassen Island.
Photo by Johan Visagie

     "When Marine and Coastal Management contacted us last week, they said her satellite positions showed that she was back on the island in West Bay," Visagie said.
     "Last Tuesday I saked out the main penguin landing beach with the island foreman, Jonny Witbooi, but we didn't see her.
     "We staked out the spot again on Wednesday evening and were scanning all the penguins through telescopes as they came in, but we didn't see her.
     "Then we started scanning the penguin colony an land and saw her in among the burrows.
     "It was quite easy to spot her -all the other penguins have smooth backs and her transmitter stuck out.
     "We had to figure out how best to catch her. We started walking towards her and she walked away. We herded her away from the other penguins and eventually had her cornered," Visagie said.
     Wearing thick gloves to prevent being pecked by Pamela's sharp beak, the men took her back to the housing complex. After the transmitter was removed, she was weighed and released.

Photo by Johan Visagie

     "She weighed 3.1 kg, which is about average, and she was looking heathly.
     "We released her but she has a flipper tag so we will be able to identify her again," Visagie said.
     Visagie caught Percy, another of the satellite-tagged penguins, last month but he has not been seen since his transmitter was removed.
     Peter, the satellite penguin whose home is Robben Island, has still not been caught, although he was the first of the three to reach home. Unlike Dassen Island, much of the penguin colony on Robben Island is in thick bush which makes penguin-spotting difficult.
     The trio were among 20 000 penguins who were evacuated from the two islands to escape the oil spill from the cargo ship Treasure which sank off Melkbosstrand on June 23, spewing out about 1 000 tons of fuel oil.
     The penguins were trucked to Port Elizabeth where they were released to swim home, giving the authorities time to clean up the oil slick.
     Peter did the trip in 18 days, Percy in 15 and Pamela in 22.
     About 21 000 oiled penguins were treated by Sanccob, and most of them have since been released into the wild.

With thanks to the Cape Times for the story and to Johan Visagie for the pictures.