Scientists have been left baffled after dozens of headless penguins have washed up on Australian beaches and have now kicked off an investigation to find out who, or what, is responsible.
The bodies of around 20 penguins have washed up on beaches in Fleurieu Peninsula in April alone, sparking concerns over what could have happened.
Stephen Hedges, who volunteers with Flinders University, has confirmed he is now collecting the animals and that studies are underway to find out why the heads had been removed.
Hedges said that the as well as finding the bodies, the heads are also washing ashore.
Although the experts are unsure what is causing the gruesome decapitations, humans have been ruled out due to the fact the deaths are happening at sea.
However, Hedges said propeller damage from fishing boats in the area was one avenue they were looking into.
Speaking to Adelaide Now, Hedges said: “We normally have one or two per month washing up on the beaches but already this month I have collected between 15 and 20, and sometimes three in one day.
“There is evidence in some of the photographs I have taken of a fairly clean chop. But looking at an animal and thinking ‘that is a very clean chop’ is not the same as scientists determining a cause.”
He went on to say that the frequency with which the beheaded penguins were washing up far exceeded the usual.
“In a year we will get about 10-20 animals,” he explained.
“This started on about April 8, and we were getting two or three and it ended up going crazy.”
For now, Hedges and the team are keeping an open mind as to the cause.
A recent busy week for tourism could be to blame, he said, but they’re not ruling out more natural reasons such as waves or climate conditions.
“The tourist areas were going nuts and they all walk the beaches with their dogs, and so this may be related,” he told the news outlet.
“With dog and fox predation, the head can be ripped off.
“It could also be due to waves, currents and climatic conditions but these are very large numbers.”
The investigation will take two to three weeks, he added.
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