Researchers found that a colony of Adélie penguins in Antartica’s Cape Denison has decreased from 160,000 to just 10,000 since 2011, when a huge iceberg ominously named B09B became grounded in nearby Commonwealth Bay. The penguins were once a short waddle from their food source, but the arrival of the iceberg — which is nearly the size of Rhode Island — has turned that jaunt into a 75-mile round trip. Talk about a long lunch.
“It’s eerily silent now,” expedition leader Chris Turney told The Sydney Morning Herald. He goes on to describe an alarmingly sedated — and depleted — community of penguins:
“The [penguins] 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.”
And this could be just the beginning. Turney warns that as the planet warms and ice continues to melt, this kind of thing could become commonplace: “The reality is, more icebergs will be released from Antarctica and just embed themselves along the coastline and make the traveling distances for some of these colonies even further than they have been.”
There is, however, some good news: Adjacent colonies are doing just fine, which indicates that rather than having starved to death, the penguins could have simply moved to another home. From LiveScience:
“Just because there are a lot fewer birds observed doesn’t automatically mean the ones that were there before have perished,” said Michelle LaRue, a penguin population researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who was not involved in the study. “They easily could have moved elsewhere, which would make sense if nearby colonies are thriving.”
Regardless, Turney and his team warn that unless B09B becomes dislodged, the entire colony could disappear within two decades. That’s bad news — unless, perhaps, you’re a Flyers fan.