A catastrophic breeding failure that wiped of the world's second largest colony of emperor penguins due to climatic changes has raised concerns about scientists
From massive whales being washed ashore dead with dozens of pounds of plastic waste in the stomach to baby dolphins being passed around for selfies and left to die on the shore, these are only some of the many, growing harmful effects of human activities that are damaging our planet. More often than not, looking at the bigger changes in the environment can indicate the magnitude of problems caused by human activities directly and indirectly. According to CNN, the second largest emperor penguin colony in the world has almost disappeared overnight, raising fears about the impact of climatic changes on species.
It was recently revealed that thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned after an ice shelf in Antarctica's Weddell Sea at the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf was destroyed by storms in 2016. Scientists say that there has been no breeding at the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea since the catastrophic event occurred. The report was published in the journal Antartic Science by researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, according to cambridge.org.
"Emperor penguins at the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea have failed to raise chicks for the last three years. The colony has now all but disappeared," said Peter Fretwell, co-author of the report to CNN. The bay located in the Weddell Sea was once a refuge for penguins from the coldest parts of the continent with around 15,000 to 24,000 pairs of emperor penguins flocking each year to the breeding site.
Scientists were also convinced that the bay would remain suitable for the penguins who need stable sea ice from April to December when the regardless of the climatic conditions affecting the Antartic sea ice, reported Independent.
Emperor penguins, the largest penguin species, live for roughly 20 years. They are known to incubate and attend to their chicks one per pair on the sea ice. The birds are then known to move into the open sea. However, after the reoccurrence of the storm in 2017 and 2018, almost all the chicks were dead at the bay leading to breeding failure said the report.
“We haven’t seen a breeding failure on a scale like this in 60 years,” says one of the study’s authors Phil Trathan, who is head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey, that used high-resolution satellite photographs of the birds’ guano over time, to reveal the findings.
Meanwhile, the researchers of the report were not sure if the changes in the bay were specifically related to the climatic changes. "It is impossible to say whether the changes in sea-ice conditions at Halley Bay are specifically related to climate change, but such a complete failure to breed successfully is unprecedented at this site," penguin expert and co-author Phil Trathan said in a BAS statement.
He also added that various published models suggest a decrease in the number of emperor penguins by the end of the century that is about 50-70% reduction due to the changes in the sea-ice condition caused due to climate change.
However, the researchers discovered that though the Halley Bay colony was completely wiped out, the Dawson Lambton colony situated next to it had remarkably increased in size. The rise in numbers at Dawson-Lambton does not account for the Penguins lost at Halley Bay. “Not everybody has gone to Dawson-Lambton yet,” said Dr. Trathan to Independent.
Meanwhile, the relocation of these birds has encouraged scientists to think that the penguins would seek alternatives as they experience a significant difference in the local surroundings.
"It shows two things, firstly that when faced with long-term poor conditions emperors will move, rather than try to tough it out at the old location. This gives them some resilience in the face of future change, secondly, it shows how little we know about what drives sea ice dynamics, which is worrying for all species that require that habitat," said Fretwell to CNN.