José Xavier: my way of helping the penguins

Dr José Xavier is a marine biologist working in Portugal, the UK and France on Antarctic marine animal behavior. He is responsible for coordinating research, education and outreach projects devoted to the Polar Regions to address science questions.

Science is all around us and is pretty important. Indeed, even to penguins in the Antarctic. My work focuses on understanding how polar animals are able to survive as climate changes.

Polar marine biology can be seen as a dream science for any child and it’s true!!! Can you imagine yourself surrounded by thousands of penguins, albatrosses, seals and whales while tackling major science questions? And hey, this is called work and you could help our planet too!!! That is my job!

As our planet is warming up, the Polar Regions are some of the best areas to assess how animals are able to adapt and survive. In the cold Antarctic, a great majority of the animals live or depend on the Southern Ocean (indeed the biggest Antarctic animal on land is less than 3 mm long), so as a marine biologist I use science to evaluate how the marine food web works, using top predators.

Science here is extremely important because it provides you a backbone of how to answer a question. Firstly, you need a question. Then you should search for any background information that might exist and establish a hypothesis to test or an objective. Determine a good method to achieve good and credible results and after obtaining those, discuss them. Can you draw a conclusion? By following this procedure (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusions) all science tries to solve questions.

So, for my science, one of the questions I had was “If the environment is changing, how are animals like albatrosses able to survive?” Some species of albatrosses face extinction so getting an answer quick is important and science can help. After raising the question, I found a method to assess this question: satellite tracking!!!! By putting small devices on their backs that could send positional signals to satellites, I could see where they were going. Complementary to this, I also used information on currents, what they eat, how much of their favorite food is in the ocean and asked for lots of help from numerous scientist colleagues of mine (without them, and an international science effort, is it not possible!) I found out that albatrosses are brilliant animals that are able to adapt according to years of more or less food. Unfortunately in some years of low availability of their favorite food, probably linked to climate change, they struggle. I concluded that some albatrosses might be in trouble if these bad years continue, fingers crossed they do not.

Another issue is that some albatrosses like chasing fishing boats for food and sometimes they get caught in the hooks and die. My colleagues and I are making efforts to educate fishermen to only deploy fishing hooks at night (so that the albatrosses do not see them) and use heavier fishing lines (so that they sink faster and albatrosses do not get caught). There is always hope.

Looking at my penguin and albatross photos, I always feel that I can do more to help and my secret to help them… is science!!!!


  1. Pualuna Tandrup Larsen
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Reply


    Pupils in Denmark share very little interest in science.
    I think they might grow more interested if they were able to watch videos of the contributors stretching their points out.

  2. Alyssa
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I think this is a wonderful thing to do because everyone knows the plant is warming up.

Post a Comment