Thousands of emperor penguins are thought dead in the Antarctic following an extraordinary sea-ice breakdown, and scientists are concerned that more of these catastrophes may occur as the continent warms.
When a terrible storm came across the Wedell Sea two years ago, birds in this specific emperor penguin colony were rearing young atop a pile of sea ice. The ice was undermined as a result, and hundreds of baby chicks drowned, according to British Antarctic Survey (BAS) authorities.
Emperor penguins are the biggest and heaviest of all penguin species, and they require large expanses of sea ice to rear their young. The ice must be able to resist the weight of thousands of birds from April to December. BAS satellite photographs of the area released this week proved the colony’s complete loss, which is already part of a near-threatened species.
Dr. Peter Fretwell, a member of BAS who first detected the colony’s absence on satellite, is concerned that thinner sea ice and warmer temperatures may put emperor penguins in danger.
“Since 2016, the sea ice hasn’t been as robust,” Fretwell told the BBC. “Storm occurrences in October and November will now blow it out much sooner.” So there’s been a change in the regime. Sea ice that was once solid and trustworthy has become unusable.”