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Thu Apr 25, 2019, 07:27 AM

Almost Complete 3-Year Reproductive Failure; Emperor Penguins Abandon 2nd-Biggest Colony

Antarctica's charismatic emperor penguins are thought to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, because warming waters are melting the sea ice where they live and breed. Now, the penguins have abandoned one of their biggest colonies after breeding pairs there failed to raise almost any new chicks in 3 years. Although the move cannot directly be attributed to climate change, researchers say it is an ominous sign of things to come for the largest of penguin species.

Emperor penguins need sea ice that remains solid for most of the year while they find mates, breed, and raise their chicks. This requirement has become a critical problem for their second-largest colony, in Halley Bay in the Weddell Sea. Starting in 2015, sea ice there has been disrupted by powerful storms driven a particularly intense El Nino, the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that alters global weather patterns.

To see how the colony was faring, remote sensing expert Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge analyzed high-resolution satellite imagery, which shows individual penguins and groups of the birds, from 2009 to 2018. Over that time, Fretwell estimated, the colony hosted between 14,000 and 25,000 adults and chicks. Since 2016, however, that population has dropped to nearly zero, Fretwell found—and he saw almost no chicks, an “unprecedented” period of reproductive failure for emperor penguins, he and co-author Phil Tranthan, a penguin ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, report online in Antarctic Science.

“Since we know little about the population trends of emperor penguins in most colonies, this is not good news,” says Dee Boersma, a penguin ecologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the research.



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Sat Apr 27, 2019, 08:27 PM

2. "Catastrophic" breeding failure at one of world's largest emperor penguin colonies

“Catastrophic” breeding failure at one of world’s largest emperor penguin colonies

25 April, 2019 Press releases

Emperor penguins at the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea have failed to raise chicks for the last three years, scientists have discovered.

Researchers from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) studied very high resolution satellite imagery to reveal the unusual findings, published today (25 April 2019) in the journal Antarctic Science.

Until recently, the Halley Bay colony was the second largest in the world, with the number of breeding pairs varying each year between 14,000 – 25,000; around 5-9% of the global emperor penguin population.

For the last 60 years the sea-ice conditions in the Halley Bay site have been stable and reliable. But in 2016, after a period of abnormally stormy weather, the sea-ice broke up in October, well before any emperor chicks would have fledged.

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