Cape Denison penguins used to live close to the open Antarctic waters which provided their food source, but after a colossal iceberg the size of Rome became lodged right in front of their colony, the penguins were cut off their food source. What was once a 160,000 penguin colony has now dwindled to only 10,000.
The outlook for the remaining 10,000 penguins at Cape Denison is dreadful, reports The Sydney Morning Herald on February 12. Scientists predict that if the iceberg, dubbed the B09B iceberg, does not break up or becomes dislodged and moves, the remaining Adélie penguins will vanish within the next 20 years.
“Iceberg doesn’t really do it justice,” said Professor of Climate Change and Earth Sciences at UNSW, Chris Turney. “It’s like a small country, it’s enormous.”
According to new research published in the journal Antarctic Science, “the Cape Denison population could be extirpated within 20 years unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out. Our results have important implications for wider East Antarctic if the current increasing sea ice trend continues.”
The colossal iceberg first lodged itself in front of the Cape Denison penguin habitat in Commonweatlth Bay in December 2010. Floating sea ice near the coast became trapped by the giant iceberg, slowly closing up all access to open water and the penguins’ food source.
Instead of getting their food supply from the open water, Adélie penguins have to travel now across a barren stretch of nearly 40 miles (60 kilometers) to find food. By the time they return to their colony, they have traveled 80 miles and are left with nothing.
The impact on the colony’s breeding habits has been disastrous since Adélie penguins usually return to the same colony where they hatched, and they try to return to the same mate and nest. Adélie penguins do not migrate, and according to Professor Turney, “They’re stuck there. They’re dying.”
The study’s lead author, Dr. Kerry-Jayne Wilson, of the West Coast Penguin Trust,called it a “catastrophic breeding failure” and described the experience of walking “amongst thousands of freeze-dried chicks from the previous season and hundreds of abandoned eggs” as utterly “heart wrenching.”
As to what caused the colossal iceberg to break off from its original location, move, and then eventually get lodged in front of the penguins’ colony, Professor Turney commented that “as the planet warms you’re going to get more ice melting. The reality is, more icebergs will be released from Antarctica and just embed themselves along the coastline, and make the travelling distances for some of these colonies even further than they have been.”
In regard to the 150,000 Adélie penguins killed at Cape Denison, other researchers fear that the birds might not be the only victims of the climate change occurring on Earth.