TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - The secret life of Adelie penguins is not quite so secret anymore, thanks to Japanese scientists who attached video cameras to the backs of birds for a rare active glimpse of life as a penguin sees it.
Penguins jumping into the water from ice floes, swimming under water to capture food and other scenes of life beneath the ice were all captured with surprising clarity, said a spokesman for the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan.
"Fundamentally, Adelie penguins spend much of their lives during the summer under the sea ice, so it's hard for humans to observe them in their natural habitat," said Hiroyasu Kumagae, an Institute spokesman, adding that it was believed such video footage could be a global first.
"So the researchers got the idea of putting cameras on the penguins and getting them to act as 'cameramen.'"
As part of Japan's latest Antarctic research mission, researchers observing the birds at one colony attached tiny video cameras -- each 21 millimeters (0.83 inch) wide and 80 millimeters (3.2 inch) long, weighing 33 grams (1.2 ounce) -- to the backs of 15 Adelie penguins with special tape.
The cameras, set on standby mode, automatically switched on once the penguins entered the water to shoot some 90 minutes of footage. Cameras were ultimately retrieved from 14 of the 15 penguins, and video footage successfully removed from 10.
Though the video is unavailable until the researchers return to Japan on March 20, still photographs released by the Institute show a tubby penguin gliding underwater and the backside of another bird as it swims.
In another, the penguin's head is seen in the foreground as it bobs at the surface, a gleaming ice floe looming up ahead.
Kumagae said that despite one photo of a rather dubious-looking penguin with a camera on its back, the hardware did not harm the animals.
"I think they probably didn't like having the cameras attached very much, though course I don't know how a penguin thinks," he said.
"It would have felt that it was carrying something but otherwise there was no stress on its body, and its movements were unlimited."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Alex Richardson)