The Antarctica’s 2nd largest flock of Emperor Penguins has seen a catastrophic collapse, reports said, and the situation is expected to continue with the effects of global warming having its greatest toll yet to the polar ice caps.
Halley Bay, a breeding haven for Emperor penguins, is home to around 8%, some nearly 24, 000 pairs, of the overall worldwide population of this magnificent species. Scientists believe that it is one of the most stable grounds for its annual reproduction. But in the last three annual breeding cycle, no penguin has hatched in the area.
The failure to reproduce Emperor penguin offspring since 2016 is considered to be one of the gravest that scientists have observed.
The Emperors are a picky species when reproducing, known to mate only on stable sea ice grounds. The record low-sea ice and heavy winds brought by an unprecedentedly strong El Niño have cause a significant portion of Haley Bay to thaw away. As it is, the chicks of the Emperor species have and estimated 50 percent chance of survival and if ice ground will keep on thawing, it will be harder for the chicks to survive until the next breeding season. Also, the large scale thawing of the ice limits the food source of the penguins, contributing further to the failure in breeding.
Using satellites, the penguins were observed to have travelled to Dawson-Lambton – another positively identified penguin breeding location. The population of Emperors there has shown a substantial increase over the course of three years. Although there is a recorded growth in population in the neighbouring breeding locations, the numbers still do not match the steep decline in Halley Bay.
The penguins migrating to a new breeding location is not the underlying issue here. The species may be running out of options to relocate to.
The global temperature rise, which have set a record high in 2018, melts the polar ice caps faster and more than it should be. Meanwhile, the sea level rise that is caused by the thawing of the ice caps make the penguin breeding sites unstable. Under these extreme situations, the species will have difficulty producing the next generation of Emperor Penguins. Experts predict that the global population of the Emperors will fall by as much as 19% by the end of the century.