Breeding Spheniscus penguins are central place foragers that feed primarily on schooling pelagic fish. They are visual hunters, but it is unclear how they locate prey patches on a coarse scale. Many petrels and storm petrels (Procellariiformes), the penguins' closest relatives, use olfactory cues to locate prey concentrations at sea, but this has not been demonstrated for penguins. Procellariiforms are attracted to a variety of olfactory cues, including dimethyl sulphide (DMS), an organosulphur compound released when phytoplankton is grazed, as well as fish odorants such as cod liver oil. A recent study found that African penguins Spheniscus demersus react to DMS on land. We confirm this result and show that African penguins are also attracted by DMS at sea. DMS-scented oil slicks attracted 2–3 times more penguins than control slicks, whereas penguins showed no response to slicks containing cod liver oil. The number of penguins attracted to DMS increased for at least 30 min, suggesting penguins could travel up to 2 km to reach scent cues. Repeats of land-based trials confirmed previous results showing DMS sensitivity of penguins on land. Our results also support the hypothesis that African penguins use DMS as an olfactory cue to locate prey patches at sea from a distance, which is particularly important given their slow commuting speed relative to that of flying seabirds.
- © 2011.