Thousands of penguins are thought perished in the Antarctic after an extraordinary sea-ice collapse, and experts are concerned that more of these catastrophes will occur as the continent warms.
When a terrible storm came across the Wedell Sea two years ago, birds in this particular 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 raise 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 weaker sea ice and warmer temperatures may put emperor penguins in danger.
“Since 2016, the sea ice hasn’t been as strong,” Fretwell told the BBC. “Storms 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 stable and reliable has become unusable.”