Antarctica penguins unable to return home due to iceberg grounding

February 20, 2016
Sea ice around Antarctica is increasing, in contrast to the Arctic where global warming is causing ice to melt and glaciers to s
Sea ice around Antarctica is increasing, in contrast to the Arctic where global warming is causing ice to melt and glaciers to shrink

Tens of thousands of Antarctic penguins are estimated to be unable to return to their colony after a massive iceberg grounded there, according to a newly published study.

The B09B iceberg, measuring some 100 square kilometres (38.6 square miles), grounded in Commonwealth Bay in East Antarctica in December 2010, the researchers from Australia and New Zealand wrote in the Antarctic Science journal.

The Adelie penguin population at the bay's Cape Denison was measured to be about 160,000 in February 2011 but by December 2013 it had plunged to an estimated 10,000, they said.

The iceberg's grounding meant the penguins had to walk more than 60 kilometres (37 miles) to find food, impeding their breeding attempts, said the researchers from the University of New South Wales' (UNSW) Climate Change Research Centre and New Zealand's West Coast Penguin Trust.

"The Cape Denison population could be extirpated within 20 years unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out," they wrote in the research published in February.

Fast ice is that forms and stays fast along the coast.

During their census in December 2013, the researchers said "hundreds of abandoned eggs were noted, and the ground was littered with the freeze-dried carcasses of previous season's chicks".

A baby Adelie penguin

"It's eerily silent now," UNSW's Chris Turney, who led the 2013 expedition, 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."

In contrast, penguins living on the eastern fringe of the bay just eight kilometres from the fast ice edge were thriving, the scientists said.

The researchers said the study had "important implications" for the wider East Antarctic if the current trend of increasing sea ice continued.

Sea ice around Antarctica is increasing, in contrast to the Arctic where global warming is causing ice to melt and glaciers to shrink.

Scientists believe the growth in Antarctic sea ice is largely driven by changes in wind and local conditions.

Explore further: 150,000 Antarctica penguins die after iceberg grounding: study

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1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 20, 2016
How, again, have the researchers determined that the dead penguins are not simply the result of the penguin's natural life-cycle? Is the expectation that the penguins would normally bury their dead?
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2016
Maybe if you read the article Hannes - you would pick up on a number of factors that would tell you that this was not the result of the penguin's natural life cycle. Hundreds of abandoned eggs is not a natural occurrence. Population plunging from 160,000 to 10,000 in one season is not natural. The on site scientists who study these colonies - have attributed a cause to these clearly unnatural events. What do you have?
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2016

Hannes was just asking some questions, which you failed to answer. I am also interested to know how you are able to determine this is was "unnatural" event, given that scientists have been studying these penguins for probably less than 0.01% of the time that this particular species has been around.

Oh yes, and please also define "unnatural" in the context of this event. That doesn't sound like a very scientific term to me.
5 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2016
Hannes was just asking some questions, which you failed to answer.
I think the article answered the questions very well. When you study penguins for many many years (as these researchers have), and you know that it is not the norm to see a colony of 160,000 birds - suddenly reduced to 10,000 - it is quite reasonable to say that something significant is happening here. The researchers have identified the cause of this event - as the positioning of this ice berg - causing the penguins to have to travel unusually long distances to get to their feeding grounds. So it is Hannes - trying to dismiss the significance of this event - who is showing the lack of scientific understanding. Just throwing around the term 'natural' in order to pretend that you have now said something of importance - is what is unscientific. We see this garbage here all the time. Global warming is 'natural'. Why don't you define what it adds to the conversation to say that this is 'natural'?

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