Penguin-Toppling Claims Studied
Nov. 02, 2000
LONDON (AP) _ Royal Air Force pilots have long been ridiculed, but remain adamant: fly above a penguin colony, they say, and the curious birds topple over like dominos as they stare up at the aircraft.
Now, British scientists are traveling to the Falkland Islands to settle the debate once and for all.
British Antarctic Survey researchers plan to spend one month aboard the HMS Endurance studying the phenomenon, which Royal Air Force pilots first recorded during the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina.
They claim the penguins crane their heads back so far to watch planes and helicopters buzzing overhead that they lose their balance and tip over.
``The penguins always look up at the helicopters flying over _ and follow them all the way until they fall backward,'' said Stuart Matthews, operations officer on the HMS Endurance. ``Some environmentalists now want to limit flights. We are going out to investigate.''
Two Lynx helicopters will fly over the colonies from different angles and at different heights to test the reaction.
At least one scientist, however, isn't convinced.
``I'm afraid it's an urban myth,'' said Dr. Richard Stone of the British Antarctic Survey. ``Aircraft do have an effect on penguins, but not to the extent of birds falling over.''