Monday, October 16, 2017 by Jayson Veley
In Antarctica, a colony of nearly 40,000 Adelie penguins emerged from their breeding season with just two chicks remaining due to unusually extensive sea ice late in the Summer, experts have said.
The increased amount of sea ice made it so that the colony of penguins living on Petrels Island was forced to travel further for food, ultimately resulting in the death of every single one of their newborns except for two. (Related: A zoo has covered up a massive penguin die-off to avoid freaking out visitors.)
Photos that were taken of this devastating event are truly upsetting. They depict adult penguins helplessly mourning the loss of their young ones, examining the chicks almost as if they are in a state of disbelief. Even if you don’t know very much about penguins or the incredible amount of work they put in just to ensure the survival of their babies, the pictures are still heartbreaking.
In response to this tragedy, the World Wildlife Fund is now calling for greater protection off the coast of East Antarctica to minimize the amount of competition penguins must face from fishing fleets when hunting for krill, their main source of food.
For those who are unaware, the World Wildlife Fund is a great organization that has been dedicated to “protecting the future of nature” for 50 years. According to their website, the World Wildlife Fund “works in 100 countries and is supported by more than one million members in the United States and close to five million globally.” In addition, “WWF’s unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature.” (Related: This couple created their very own nature sanctuary from land that was deemed “unusable.”)
But the World Wildlife Fund is not the only group that has decided to join the fight for the Adelie Penguins’ survival. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which consists of 25 members states and the European Union, is planning on meeting early next week to consider creating a new protected area in the waters of East Antarctica. The protected area would strictly prohibit krill fishing, thus allowing the penguins to have easier access to food. And considering the events of the past, these penguins need all the help that they can get.
Four years ago, this same colony of penguins failed to produce a single chick despite the fact that there were a total of 20,196 adult pairs. That time, however, the chicks died as a result of not only heavy sea ice, but also a quick transition from unusually warm weather and rain to bitter cold temperatures, causing them all to become saturated and ultimately freeze to death.
Since 2010, the World Wildlife Fund has been supporting penguin research in the area by French scientists working for the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).
“Adelie penguins are one of the hardiest and most amazing animals on our planet,” said Rod Downie, head of polar programs at the World Wildlife Fund. “This devastating event contrasts with the Disney image that many people might have of penguins. It’s more like ‘Tarantino does Happy Feet,’ with dead penguin chicks strewn across a beach in Adelie Land.” Downie added that opening up the waters of East Antarctica to krill fisheries as the Adelie penguins are still trying to recover from two horrific breeding seasons in a matter of four years is “unthinkable.”
Last year, the CCAMLR went forward with a proposal to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary – roughly 600,000 square miles, or the size of Britain, Germany and France combined – in the Ross Sea near Antarctica. Unfortunately, a second proposal to create a sanctuary in East Antarctica, where the penguins died, was never officially approved. Still, hopes are high that a protected area will eventually be established to help ensure a prosperous future for the Adelie penguins.