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Antarctic penguin die-off is one of the largest on record

A massive Adélie penguin die-off in Antarctica has researchers worried about the species’ future.

A catastrophic event in Antarctica has left a large number of Adélie penguins dead, with only two chicks out of 40,000 birds surviving the disaster.

Researchers backed by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature made this discovery while studying Adélie penguin chicks on the continent’s coast. They found that almost all of the chicks starved to death as a result of “unusually extensive sea ice” that made normal food supplies hard to find.

“Adélie penguins are one of the hardiest and most amazing animals on our planet,” said Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programmes at the World Wildlife Fund, in a statement. “This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins. It’s more like ‘Tarantino does Happy Feet’, with dead penguin chicks strewn across a beach in Adélie Land.”

As brutal as the die-off is, this is the not the first time such an event has occurred. Four years ago, unusual environmental conditions disrupted the penguin’s breeding activity. That caused no chicks to survive the 2013-2014 breeding season, and temporarily crippled populations.

Environmental groups are worried about the recent die-off for numerous reasons, but the biggest is that new proposals could open the area up to krill fisheries. If that happens, it could further deplete the bird’s food source and make the situation even worse.

To discuss such methods, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will meet in Hobart, Australia next week. There, they will look at ideas to protect local penguins and keep the area away from the fishing industry. Such proposals may also help create a safe spot where penguin breeding can take place.

“The region is impacted by environmental changes that are linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier since 2010,” said Yan Ropert-Coudert, lead researcher on the Adélie penguin program at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), according to Gears of Biz. “An MPA will not remedy these changes but it could prevent further impacts that direct anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism and proposed fisheries, could bring.”

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