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Antarctica. Thousands of penguin chicks have died. Ice collapsed beneath them

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Up to 10,000 baby emperor penguins have died off the coast of Antarctica. The hatchlings had not yet developed the feathers that enable them to swim, and the ice beneath them was unstable. Scientists estimate that by the end of this century, due to the decreasing extent of the ice cover, this species, living only in Antarctica, may be on the verge of extinction.

The researchers observed five colonies of emperor penguins in the Bellingshausen Sea area, west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Using satellite images from 2018-2022, they determined the number of birds in these colonies during the breeding season.

In December and January, the young penguins born on the ice head out to the ocean. In 2022, however, in November, a group of researchers noticed a serious defragmentation of the ice under the penguins before the chicks managed to produce the feathers needed for swimming. Four colonies were found to have ‘complete reproductive failure’. Probably none of the chicks survived. According to estimates, up to 10,000 individuals died. The birds most likely drowned or froze to death

“Huge Loss”

– Baby emperor penguins thrive on the sea ice. Birds are at risk when the ice sheet is unstable or not wide enough, explained Dr Peter Fretwell of the British government science organization British Antarctic Survey (BAS). “Global warming is responsible for this catastrophe,” he said.

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Norman Ratcliffe, co-author of the study and a BAS biologist, said the penguin population had suffered a “huge loss” there. He called it an “early wake-up call.”

Due to the shrinking extent of the seasonal ice sheet around Antarctica, 90 percent of penguin colonies could be extinct by the end of the 21st century, warned Fretwell. – But there is hope. We can reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming, (…) but if we don’t, we will drive these amazing birds to the brink of extinction,’ he added.

Since 2016, Antarctica’s summer sea ice extent has been declining rapidly, and the total area of ​​frozen water around the continent has fallen to an all-time low over the past two years. What’s more, the slow formation of ice floes means that the young penguins will probably not hatch for another year.

Read also: There should be ice here, but there isn’t. The record that no one dreamed of was set in Antarctica

The ice sheet in Antarctica is meltingMaciej Zieliński, Adam Ziemienowicz/PAP

Emperor penguins ‘near threatened’

Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the largest and heaviest living member of the penguin family (Spheniscidae). It is a species endemic to Antarctica.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) classification, emperor penguins are now considered a species “near threatened” with extinction. Due to the danger posed to them by climate warming, it has been proposed to consider them as “vulnerable” species to extinction.

Emperor penguinsShutterstock

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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