Giant Iceberg Causes Penguin Deaths
For the past six years, an iceberg the size of Rome has blocked the access of Adélie penguins to the sea in Antarctica. To find food, they must walk a detour of nearly 40 miles to the coast.
The impact on the colony has been devastating: More than 150,000 penguins have died.
The approximately 1,800-square-mile iceberg (referred to as B09B) struck a glacier and became stuck in Commonwealth Bay back in 2010, essentially land-locking 160,000 penguins. Before then, the colony was thriving, thanks to strong winds that blew ice from the shore, making it easy to hunt for fish.
“The Cape Denison population could be extirpated within 20 years unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out,” wrote scientists from the Climate Change Research Centre at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) in a study published this month in Antarctic Science.
The number of Adélie penguins at Cape Denison has been recorded for more than 100 years. Back in the early 1910s, researchers on explorer Sir Douglas Mawson’s expedition complained about the noise made by more than 100,000 penguins.
The colony’s dwindling population was observed during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition three years ago.
“It’s eerily silent now,” Chris Turney, the expedition’s leader and a professor of climate change and earth sciences at UNSW, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“The ones that we saw at Cape Denison were incredibly docile, lethargic, almost unaware of your existence. The ones that are surviving are clearly struggling. They can barely survive themselves, let alone hatch the next generation. We saw lots of dead birds on the ground … it’s just heartbreaking to see.”
Adélie penguins live all along the Antarctica coast. They were discovered during an 1840 French Antarctic expedition, and named for the wife of its leader, Jules Dumont d’Urville. According to National Geographic, during breeding season, their colonies can include thousands of penguins.
But like polar bears in the Arctic, penguins in Antarctica are fighting an uphill battle to survive due to climate change. Even without enormous icebergs blocking their way, Adélie penguins have had difficulty finding krill, the small crustaceans that are a main part of their diet. Krill live on the underside of ice sheets, and as the ice melts, they become more difficult to find.
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Adelie penguins image via Shutterstock.