Emperor penguins at Halley Bay in Antarctica experienced a massive breeding failure in 2016 when more than 10,000 chicks were lost. After three years of breeding mishaps, researchers said in a new study that Antarctica’s second-largest colony of emperor penguins is not recovering.
Many of the adult penguins moved to nearby locations, but the researchers are worried about the long-term implications of the penguins’ vulnerability in what had been considered the safest part of their range.
According to a research team at the British Antarctic Survey, the emperor penguins at Halley Bay have all but disappeared.
The penguins breed and molt on sea ice, frozen pieces of ice floating in the ocean. The birds are awkward on land and cannot climb icy cliffs, making them exposed to the effects of climate change and high winds.
Severe storms in September 2015, influenced by the strongest El Niño in 60 years, caused windy conditions that scared the penguins out of their breeding grounds earlier than usual. This led to the loss of 14,500 to 25,000 eggs that year, according to study co-author Phil Trathan.
British researchers have been studying penguins in the area since 1956 and have never seen such a decline in their population. Scientists are worried that with increased effects of climate change, the emperor penguins may continue to experience population declines.