The second largest emperor penguin colony in Antarctica has effectively disappeared, after failing to breed following a catastrophic event.
In 2016, thousands of emperor penguin chicks from the Halley Bay colony drowned after the sea ice they were being cared for on was destroyed by severe weather conditions.
In the three years since, the colony has reportedly failed to produce any more chicks, with no sign that these emperor penguins are trying to repopulate their devastated colony.
Traditionally, 15,000 to 24,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins head to the Halley Bay breeding site on an annual basis. However, barely any have been there since 2016.
For the second year in a row NO emperor penguin chicks have survived in the artic, scientists believe this is due to declining ice. This planet is dying.
— abbie (@AbbieDavy) April 25, 2019
This terrible loss has been reported by a team from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who noticed the vanishing of this colony – which makes up five to nine per cent of the world’s emperor penguin population – using satellite pictures
Dr Peter Fretwell from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) told BBC News:
The sea-ice that’s formed since 2016 hasn’t been as strong. Storm events that occur in October and November will now blow it out early.
So there’s been some sort of regime change. Sea-ice that was previously stable and reliable is now just untenable.
Dr Phil Trathan, also from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), told the BBC:
What’s interesting for me is not that colonies move or that we can have major breeding failures – we know that. It’s that we are talking here about the deep embayment of the Weddell Sea, which is potentially one of the climate change refugia for those cold-adapted species like emperor penguins.
And so if we see major disturbances in these refugia – where we haven’t previously seen changes in 60 years – that’s an important signal.
It is though many adult emperor penguins have either avoided breeding in 2017 and 2018, or flocked to new breeding sites across the Weddell Sea.
A significant rise in numbers has reportedly been observed at a colony some 50km away from Halley Bay, near the Dawson-Lambton Glacier.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.