Climate Change Disaster: Only Two Penguin Chicks Survive as Colony Starves To Death

(3BL Media/Justmeans) In parts of the Antarctic peninsula, sea ice cover has reduced by over 60% in 30 years; and this has affected the Adélie penguins who are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. The Adélie is the smallest and the most widespread, species of penguin in the Antarctic. Eating mainly krill and small fish, and are a source of food for predators like leopard seals and killer whales. Brilliant swimmers which can dive down to 180m – though they tend to catch their food much closer to the surface. They have a feisty attitude too and been known to take on potential predators – seals or large seabirds – or even attack visiting researchers with their flippers.

They are found on the Antarctic continent and neighbouring islands including the South Orkney and South Sandwich Islands. Living on or close to sea ice all its life, it only breeds on ice-free land, which isn’t so easy in Antarctica where less than 1% of the land is ice-free. While these penguins are increasing in this region, in areas where climate change is established, their populations have fallen by more than 65% in the past 25 years. The biggest threat to the Adélie right now is climate change!

A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica has suffered a devastating breeding event, where all but two chicks have died of starvation this year. This event had been attributed to an unusually large amount of sea ice and exceptional rainy episode. This meant due to the unusual extent of sea ice, the adult penguins had to travel an extra 100km to forage for food. The rainy weather left the chicks, which have poor waterproofing, wet and unable to keep warm. Overall, Antarctica has had a record low amount of summer sea ice, but the area around the colony has been an exception.

This distressing finding has urgently called for the establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarctica, at the meeting of 24 nations and the European Union at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, which took place last week on 16 October. While the link between climate change and the sea-ice extent around Antarctica is not clear, sea ice has been increasing in recent years, which could be why it has given rise to the amount of freshwater in the ocean around the continent caused by climate change. However, over the long term, climate change is expected to cause the sea ice to shrink dramatically. Human pressures have also had a severe impact on the Adélie penguins.

We are all fascinated by this species and the funny way they waddle with their amazing lifestyles. Who doesn’t love the film, ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins’?! However, some researchers believe the Adélie penguins may become extinct. By protecting them we’re helping look after their ocean environment, which in the end is good for all the wildlife that depends on it.

Photo Credit: WWF