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Penguin Preferences
Tracking Adelie Penguins with Radio Telemetry

data | hook | main | background & resources | student

Author Contact Information

Andre Wille
Basalt High School
Basalt, Colorado  81621

Students use radio telemetry data gathered over a three year period to track nesting Adelie penguins to their feeding grounds. Data from three field locations is plotted on a satellite image showing the presence of sea ice. Once the location of feeding areas are determined, positions will be classified according to ice cover type. Feeding habitat preferences will be calculated by determining the percentage of feeding penguins in each ice cover type. Students will then hypothesize on the feeding habitat requirements of the Adelies. Why might one ice cover type be prefered over another ?

Grade Level/Discipline
I use this activity in 9th and 10th grade biology and Ecology.

National Standards
Content Standard A-Science as Inquiry

  • Doing scientific inquiry
  • Understanding scientific inquiry
    Content Standard C- Life Science
  • Interdependence of organisms
  • Behavior of organisms Content Standard E-Science and Technology
  • Abilities of Technological design
  • Understandings about science and technology
    Content Standard F- Science and Personal and Social Perspectives.
  • Environmental Quality
  • Science and technology in global challenges

    Pre-activity set-up

  • Prepare copies and overhead of food web.
  • Gather materials below.
  • Reader
  • Recorder
  • Data plotter
  • Calculator


  • magnetic compass or protractor
  • ruler
  • calculator
  • satellite images - ../../activity/wille/penguinpreferences_data.html

    Time Frame
    Two 50 min class periods

    Engagement and Exploration (Student Inquiry Activity)
    1. Questions to Brainstorm (or for Internet scavenger hunt.)

  • What are the habitat requirements of a penguin ?
  • What are their food requirements ?
  • What are their nesting requirements ?
    Food web diagram overhead. Display the overhead and discuss the links shown. Clarify student conceptions of the brainstorming questins above.

    Explanation (Discussing)
    In discussion, assess students' understanding of each link in the food web. Discuss the importance of each link in the food web. What would happen if any of the links are broken ? (Algae are dependent on the presence of ice to grow. The algae are producers for zooplankton which intern provide food for the krill. The penguins, crabeater seals, and baleen whales depend on the krill. Top predators include the orca and leopard seal. When ice is not present, the decreased algae alters the entire food web. Thus the role of sea ice is critical to the Antarctic ecosystem.)

    Elaboration (Polar Applications)
    Handout the student master and the maps. (Students need to understand the critical factors influencing adelie behavior. By completing the investigation, students will identify that sea ice rather than open sea water, is the preferred feeding ground for adelies. By applying an understanding of the food web, students should realize the significance of the penguin's apparent preference for ice covered areas. Students are also asked to identify the implications of warming on the feeding success of the penguins.)

    Exchange (Students Draw Conclusions)
    By plotting the telemetry data set onto satellite images, students will determine the feeding habitat preferred by the Adelie penguins. Possible reasons for this preference are hypothesized by students based on their understanding of the role of ice in the food web. Implications of warming and decreased ice cover are considered.

    Evaluation (Assessing Student Performance)

  • Accurate plotting of the telemetry data onto map.
  • Responses to questions and summary.
  • Discussion comments.

    data | hook | main | background & resources | student