Emperor penguin colony have been effectively wiped out overnight
The world’s second largest emperor penguin colony is believed to have been effectively wiped out overnight after changes in ocean ice conditions made their average reproducing grounds exceedingly insecure.
A large number of youthful head penguin chicks suffocated in the Weddell Sea in 2016 when the ocean ice on which they were being raised was crushed amid stormy climate.
Since then, the colony – which was located at the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf – has shown no sign of re-establishing itself.
“The colony which for decades was comprised of between 14,000 and 25,000 breeding pairs – appeared to disappear overnight. It is thought that the chicks had not yet developed the right feathers to swim following the breaking of the sea ice”. Dr Peter Fretwell and Dr Phil Trathan said.
Emperor penguins need stable ocean ice to breed. This breeding cold stage starts from April, when the winged creatures touch base, until December, when their chicks fledge.
Dr Fretwell said: “The sea ice that’s formed since 2016 hasn’t been as strong. Storm events that occur in October and November will now blow it out early. So there’s been some sort of regime change. Sea ice that was previously stable and reliable is now just untenable.”
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) team believes adults have either moved to new areas or packed breeding altogether, after the catastrophic loss of life in 2016.
Emperors, the world’s largest penguin species, came to global fame with a 2005 documentary, “March of the Penguins” and the 2006 cartoon movie “Happy Feet”.
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