Usually 15,00 to 24,000 breeding pairs flock yearly to a site at Halley Bay, but almost none have been there since 2016
For the past three years, virtually nothing has hatched at Antarctica’s second biggest breeding grounds for emperor penguins. The start of this year is looking just as bleak, a new study has found.
Usually 15,000 to 24,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins flock yearly to a breeding site at Halley Bay, considered a safe place that should stay cold this century despite global warming. But almost none have been there since 2016, according to a study in Wednesday’s issue of the Antarctic Science journal.
The breeding pair population has increased significantly at a nearby breeding ground, but the study’s author said it is nowhere near the number missing at Halley Bay.
“We’ve never seen a breeding failure on a scale like this in 60 years,” said study author Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s unusual to have a complete breeding failure in such a big colony.”
Normally about 8% of the world’s emperor penguin population breeds at Halley Bay, Trathan said.
Black-and-white with yellow ears and breasts, emperor penguins are the largest penguin species, weighing up to 88lb (40kg) and living about 20 years. Pairs breed in the harshest winter conditions with the male incubating their egg.
Scientists blame the sharp decline on climate and weather conditions that break apart the “fast ice” sea ice that is connected to the land where the emperor penguins stay to breed. They incubate their eggs and tend to their chicks one per pair on ice. After breeding and tending to the chicks, the wildlife move to open sea.
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