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Ice Breakup Causes Emperor Penguin Chicks to Disappear from Colonies

Introduction

Record sea ice loss in Antarctica has led to a significant decline in emperor penguin chicks in certain colonies. This has raised concerns about the potential extinction of these penguins, which breed on sea ice instead of land.

Breeding on Sea Ice

  • Emperor penguins breed on sea ice rather than land.
  • Male emperor penguins hatch eggs during the Antarctic winter, from August to December.
  • Chicks need stable sea ice until December to develop their feathers and gain enough strength to swim.

Impact of Sea Ice Loss

  • In February, the sea ice extent around Antarctica reached a record low.
  • Due to breaking up of the ice, four out of five colonies in the Bellingshausen Sea experienced a breeding failure.
  • A research team monitored penguin populations by analyzing satellite images and guano stains.
  • One colony off the coast of Smyley Island, which usually has 3500 breeding pairs, was forced to abandon the colony and their chicks due to sea ice breakup.
  • 19 out of 62 known colonies in Antarctica were affected by sea ice loss.

Significance and Future Concerns

  • These findings support existing predictive models that suggest 90% of emperor penguin colonies could face extinction by 2100 if warming rates continue.
  • While some chick losses happen due to storms or severe winds, widespread breeding failure due to shrinking ice is a new concern.
  • The impact on the overall population remains uncertain, but this phenomenon is an alarm bell for the future of emperor penguins.
  • It raises questions about how penguins will react as a group if this becomes a common occurrence.

Conclusion

The disappearing emperor penguin chicks in colonies due to ice breakup highlights the vulnerability of these creatures to climate change. Urgent action is needed to protect their habitats and ensure their survival in the face of shrinking sea ice.

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