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Tools & Technology: Weigh Station

Weigh Station
Photo by Viola Toniolo.

Weigh Station
The weigh station is an ingenious solution to the question of how much food a penguin chick eats. To find out, biologists surround part of a colony with plastic fencing. They leave an entrance so that penguins can enter and leave at will. But to get in and out, the penguins have to hop onto a platform that contains a digital scale. In the second or two that the penguin is on the platform, a computer records the penguin's weight.

For some of the penguins, the researchers inject a small, harmless chip under the skin, similar to the chips used to keep track of pets. When the penguin hops on the scale, the computer records the identity of the bird, its weight, and the time. From there, it's an easy task to figure out how much the penguin weighed when it went out fishing, how long it was gone, and how much it weighed when it came back. The weight the penguin gained corresponds to the amount of food the chick gets fed.

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