In the December issue, we introduced you to Karly McMullen, an ocean pollution researcher. As part of her job, she gets to study Galápagos penguins!
Read on for the full interview with Karly.
- What does an ocean pollution researcher do?
We investigate how pollution enters the ocean and effects marine life. We work with computers, read, and study, and sometimes we go “into the field.” This means we visit special places, like the Galápagos Islands, to collect samples and measure pollution.
- What can penguin poop tell us about these animals?
Plastic is a type of pollutant penguins accidentally eat. Unfortunately, plastic doesn’t have nutrients or break down like regular food, so we can find it in their poop. Studying penguin poop helps scientists learn how plastic pollution affects penguins, ecosystems, and our planet.
- How are microplastics harmful to sea animals?
Sea animals accidentally eat tiny pieces of plastic, and they can get stuck in their stomach and trick animals into feeling full, even though microplastics don’t provide nutrients. Microplastics can carry harmful chemicals and affect the whole food chain.
- What makes Galápagos penguins special?
Did you know they are the only penguins you will find north of the equator? They are tropical penguins, and instead of living on ice and snow, they live on molten lava rock. Luckily, cold water currents travel to the islands, bringing nutrients and fish to the penguins.
- Are penguins friendly?
Penguins are generally afraid of human beings. When we study penguins, we respect their natural homes and observe them from a safe distance. Even though they are a bit afraid, penguins still watch us as we do our work. They are curious creatures!
- What was it like studying these animals in the Galápagos Islands?
It was an unbelievably special adventure. These islands are far away and well-protected, so I got to see lots of different animals living freely in their natural habitats. It’s like a real-life animal kingdom!
- What should everyone know about penguins?
Penguins are incredible. They are seabirds that can’t fly, but that doesn’t stop them from being like superheroes in the water. Penguins are also social creatures and form strong bonds with their mates and stay together for life. And, there are many different kinds of penguins!
- Why are Galápagos penguins endangered?
Sadly, there are only around 1200 left because of human activity. Greenhouse gases make the oceans warmer, meaning there are fewer fish for penguins. Another problem is pollution, and penguins can also get caught in fishing gear. Lastly, humans can disturb where penguins make their nests.
- What can kids do to help keep the oceans clean?
One of the best things you can do is to use less plastic. Another great way is joining beach cleanups. You can also learn about recycling and make sure to recycle properly. Lastly, you can be an ocean ambassador and spread the word about the importance of ocean conservation.
- Have you encountered or studied any other penguins? Do different penguins have different personalities?
I had an amazing time meeting African Penguins in Cape Town, South Africa. They loved playing in the water with their friends. I also got to see Little Penguins in Melbourne, Australia. They are so tiny and adorable! I also dream about seeing other penguin species.
- Can you tell us a funny story about an experience you had with a penguin?
In Cape Town, I was sitting in the water while penguins zipped around me. When I looked underwater, I saw one of the penguins poop, and it came right towards me! It was so unexpected and silly, and it made everyone giggle. Penguins sure know how to surprise us!
- What are Galápagos penguins usually doing this time of year in December?
They can be found in their special homes on the rocky islands. They love to be with their penguin friends. You’ll see them popping in and out of the water, looking for fish to eat.
Thanks for speaking with us, Karly!
Interview by Jenna L. Campbell. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.