The missing Adélie penguins colony might be just fine as Adélie penguins are known to be highly adaptable to new environmental conditions.
One study published in the Antarctic Research journal suggests that a colony of Adélie penguins counting approximately 150,000 individuals may have been severely decimated. The research team suggested that only about 10,000 individuals are left.
The catastrophic event would have been caused by the B09B iceberg crashing in the Mertz Glacier. As such, the Adélie penguins colony living on Cape Denison of Commonwealth Bay saw their access to food cut off. Forced to track for almost 40 miles to the nearest feeding grounds, the Adélie penguins would have perished in large numbers since 2010.
However, according to other researchers, almost 150,000 missing birds is neither plausible, nor catastrophic for the species. Alternatively, the researchers believe the missing Adélie penguins colony might be just fine. Nonetheless, they could have moved somewhere else, split between other Adélie penguins colonies in Commonwealth Bay or simply started new colonies somewhere else.
The missing Antarctic birds may suggest a sharp decline in the Adélie penguins population numbers. However, the fact doesn’t imply that all the Adélie penguins died off. Doctor Michelle LaRue with the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis stated:
“To suggest that 150,000 birds died in two years because of this one iceberg is a pretty big leap in my opinion. We can’t really say that with the information at hand”.
Other Adélie penguins colonies observed in Commonwealth Bay seem to be thriving. Some of the missing Adélie penguins of the Denison colony may have well joined these new colonies. Indeed, stomping for 37 miles to get access to food makes it harder for Adélie penguin chicks to receive sufficient nourishment and calories.
As the B09B iceberg cut off access to food, the Adélie penguins would have been forced to look for other feeding grounds. Feeding and breeding cycles are strongly connected with Adélie penguins. Without sufficient food, colonies are known to postpone breeding. Doctor LaRue cited the example of a similar event which didn’t lead to a sharp decline in Adélie penguins population numbers.
This time, iceberg B-15 cut off access to food for an Adélie penguins colony in the Ross Sea. At the time, the penguins had been marked for study. As a result, the effects of the iceberg B-15 crashing in the shore could be thoroughly studied.
According to Doctor LaRue, the Adélie penguins were observed to have moved between colonies. This patterns was prefered by many individuals in the colony as an alternative to sticking to the previous breeding ground, regardless of its importance. Some of the Adélie penguins in the Cape Denison colony could have indeed perished. However, carcasses of the Antarctic birds don’t prove the extinction of an entire colony. In the climate conditions of this region, decomposing carcasses are a more than rare event.
In addition, Adélie penguins are known to be a rather flexible species. In time, a number of recolonized breeding grounds have been discovered, standing testimony to the adaptability and flexibility of the Antarctic birds. As such, the missing Adélie penguins colony might be just fine.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia