News travelled across the globe that 150,000 Adélie have died after their sea access was cut off by a massive iceberg, but there is no proof yet that the birds are indeed dead.
Experts think that a more plausible explanation for the missing penguins would be that the birds simply relocated elsewhere. For instance, when the southern Ross Sea was grounded by an iceberg in 2001, the penguins marched to nearby colonies and returned after the ice broke up.
Michelle LaRue, a penguin population researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, also said that the Adélie penguin could have easily moved elsewhere – perhaps to other neighbouring colonies.
The penguin used to live on at a colony on Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, in East Antarctica. In 2010, iceberg B09B – which is almost the size of Road Island – crashed into the Mertz Glacier, cutting off the penguin’s access to sea and with that, their food supply.
The researchers of a new study – published on Tuesday (Feb. 2) in the journal Antarctic Science – said that the penguins had to walk more than 37 mile (60 km) in search for food. Only 10,000 birds of the original colony of 150,000 are left, according to the study authors. Unless the ice clears, they predict that what is left of the Cape Denison colony will disappear in the next twenty years.
Chris Turney, co-author of the study and Professor of Climate Change and Earth Sciences at the University of New South Wales Australia, said that when he and he colleagues visited the colony, they found a lot of discarded eggs and dead chicks.
However, LaRue said that dead birds are always scattered around Adélie penguin colonies, because it is difficult for the carcasses to decompose in the dry, cold climate of Antarctica. So far, no one knows precisely what happened to the penguins, LaRue added.
The research team from Australia also stated that the penguin might have moved to other nesting sites, since abandoned and recolonized penguin colonies can be seen all over Antarctica.
Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) are a common penguin species along the entire Antarctic coast. The penguins can grow up to 18 to 28 inches in height (46 to 71 cm) and can weigh between 7.9 and 13.2 lb (3.6 and 6 kg).
The birds breed on the continent (not on pack ice like the emperor penguins) during the Antarctic summer – from October to February. Adélie penguins travel from their nesting colonies to the ocean to hunt for krill and fish. There is a total of approximately 7 million Adélie penguins in Antarctica, LaRue said.
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