A huge iceberg has been blamed for dying of an estimated 150,000 penguins in Antarctica. The penguins’ population decreased abruptly since 2011, according to scientists. They say a large colony of Antarctic penguins could be wiped out within the next couple of years after an iceberg the size of a small country blocked off a large part of the home.
The penguins used to thrive at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, where very powerful winds blowing off the ice sheet kept a large area of water open near the coast. But in December 2010, an iceberg bigger than the ACT grounded in the bay, trapping floating sea ice near the shore. The Adélie penguins now have to travel a long distances of more than 120 km to feed. Since 2011 their number has decreased from 160,000 to no more than 10,000.
In an article in Antarctic Science, researchers wrote that the arrival of iceberg B09B in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, and subsequent expansion of the fast ice has dramatically increased the distance these penguins breeding at Cape Denison must travel when searching for food.
The Cape Denison population could vanish within a few years unless the perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out, or B09B relocates. This has provided a natural experiment to research the impact of iceberg stranding events and expansion of sea ice along the East Antarctic coast.
According to research carried out by the Research Center for climate change at Australia’s University of New South Wales, this low number of penguins is the result of climate chance.
Dr. Kerry-Jayne Wilson, lead author of the West Coast Penguin Trust, said the climate changes triggered by the iceberg caused this ‘catastrophic breeding failure’. She noted it was heart wrenching to see the impact on the penguins, with researchers walking among hundreds of freeze-dried chicks from the previous season and thousands of abandoned eggs.
As our planet warms we’re going to get more ice melting. The reality is, more icebergs will come from Antarctica and just embed themselves along the coastline, making the travelling distances for some of these colonies even further than they have been.
Adélie penguins usually go back to the colony where they hatched and try to return to the same partner and nest. Professor Turney said these penguins could face a grim future, because they don’t migrate. So, they are stuck there and slowly dying.
So, as already been noted, it seems the penguins’ only chance of survival is if B09B moves, which would allow these penguins access to the Commonwealth Bay feeding grounds again. However, one of the study’s authors, Professor Chris Turney, told that we can’t tell whether the iceberg will move in time to save the colony from extinction.