In Colony Where 36K Penguins Mated, Just 2 Chicks Survived

'Catastrophic breeding event' strikes Adélie penguin colony in Antarctica
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 13, 2017 5:20 PM CDT
In Colony Where 36K Penguins Mated, Just 2 Chicks Survived
An Adelie penguin male builds a stone nest in Antarctica.   (AP Photo/Discovery/BBC, Jeff Wilson)

About 18,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins mated on Petrels Island in Antarctica this year. Two chicks survived. Two. "It’s more like ‘Tarantino does Happy Feet,' with dead penguin chicks strewn across a beach in Adélie Land," the Guardian quotes the head of polar programs at WWF as saying. Along with the two surviving baby penguins were thousands of starved chicks and unhatched eggs. Researchers say the problem was more summer sea ice than usual, which forced adult penguins to trek dozens of extra miles to hunt for food. It's not the first time a tragedy like this has affected the colony of 40,000 Adélie penguins in East Antarctica. In 2013, there were more than 20,000 breeding pairs and not a single surviving chick, according to the Independent. Record summer sea ice was a problem then too, as was "unprecedented" rain that left chicks wet and frozen.

The likes of the two "catastrophic breeding events" of the past four years hadn't been seen prior in more than 50 years of observation. While Antarctica as a whole is seeing record low sea ice, that hasn't been the case around the Adélie penguin colony after a chunk of ice the size of Luxembourg broke off in 2010 and changed ocean currents and ice formation. One researcher now says "the scene is set for massive impacts to hit on a more or less regular basis." Two-dozen nations and the EU will vote on the creation of a marine protected area next week to at least keep krill fisheries away from the colony, whose main food source is krill, the BBC reports. According to CNN, oceanographers last year found that 60% of Adélie penguin habitat in Antarctica may be unsuitable for the animals by end of the century. (After 106 years in Antarctica, fruitcake still looks "like new.")

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