AFP Relax News•October 13, 2017
Mass starvation has wiped out thousands of penguin chicks in Antarctica, with unusually thick sea ice forcing their parents to forage further for food in what conservationists Friday called a “catastrophic breeding failure”.
French scientists, supported by WWF, have been studying a colony of 18,000 pairs of Adelie penguins in East Antarctica since 2010 and discovered only two chicks survived the most recent breeding season in early 2017.
They attributed the disaster to extensive sea ice late in the summer, meaning the adult penguins had to travel further to find food, with the chicks dying as they waited.
Yan Ropert-Coudert, senior penguin scientist at Dumont D’Urville research station, adjacent to the colony, said the region was impacted by environmental changes linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier.
“The conditions are set for this to happen more frequently due to the breaking of the Mertz glacier in 2010 that changed the configuration of the stretch of sea in front of the colony,” he told AFP.
“But there are other factors needed to have a zero year: a mix of temperature, wind direction and strength, no opening of polynya in front of the colony.”
A polynya is an area of unfrozen sea within an ice pack.
He added that the coming season seemed to be better for the birds in terms of sea ice “but we never know how it will turn unfortunately”.
Surviving mostly on a diet of krill — a small shrimp-like crustacean — Adelie penguins, slick and efficient swimmers, have been generally faring well in East Antarctica.
But they have been declining in the Antarctic region more generally where climate change has taken its toll, with shifting ice reducing habitat while warming seas affect their prey.