Cape Denison Penguins: 150,000 Penguins Perish Since 2010 Due To Iceberg

The Cape Denison penguins suffered a tragedy when they were unable to get the food they needed in order to survive. Suffering from starvation, 150,000 penguins starved to death. Due to the mass death, less than 10 percent of the Cape Denison penguins remain. Those that are alive may not be enough to repopulate the area unless the conditions which caused the penguins to die, change.

A report by the Sydney Herald on February 12 told the story of what caused the penguin crisis in Antarctica. In 2010, an iceberg drifted to a position that placed it between the Cape Denison penguin colony and their food source. Now, in order to get food, the penguins have to travel around 37 miles each way in order to find a route around the iceberg.

The penguin colony at Cape Denison has been known since Sir Douglas Mawson’s research station was established in 1911. Mawson’s team complained that noise made by the penguins was much louder than they could deal with. Back then, 100,000 penguins roamed the area so it did not take much for their sounds to get loud. Now that only 10,000 exist, it has become very quiet. Professor of Climate Change and Earth Sciences at UNSW, Chris Turney, talks about how the remaining penguins are now acting.

“It’s eerily silent now. The ones that we saw at Cape Denison were incredibly docile, lethargic, almost unaware of your existence. The ones that are surviving are clearly struggling. They can barely survive themselves, let alone hatch the next generation. We saw lots of dead birds on the ground… it’s just heartbreaking to see.”

The iceberg that has separated the penguins from their food source has been floating around Antarctica for the last 20 years. Labeled B09B, the iceberg is considered to be very large by iceberg standards. In length, B09B is just over 60 miles long. Professor Turney says, “iceberg doesn’t really do it justice. It’s like a small country, it’s enormous.”

Rising temperatures in the region caused the iceberg to float and crash into the Penguins’ habitat. The 60-mile long iceberg broke off from where it was located 20 years ago. Icebergs may continue to dislodge and float to other locations around the Antarctica coast and close off food routes for other species living on the frozen continent. Professor Turney explains the potential for more icebergs to cause future problems.

“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.”

Not all penguins living in Antarctica are having food problems. A colony of penguins living on Commonwealth Bay is prospering. The penguins there also migrate. They travel back to the area where they hatched. If they were having issues finding food where they were, they would likely find food when they migrated. The Cape Denison penguins, for some reason, do not migrate.

It is not all bad news, though. Co-author of the paper published about this crisis, Chris Fogwill, gave some hope.

“Over the last year the fast ice associated with B09B has begun to break up in Commonwealth Bay.”

Scientists and researchers are taking this opportunity to better understand how drastic environmental changes like this one impact the ecosystem in Antarctica.

Do you think the Cape Denison penguins will be able to overcome the environmental problem or will the colony end up being erased from existence?

[Image via AP Photo stf/Rodrigo Jana]