They are unlikely enemies, but scientists think that a massive iceberg could be putting these penguins at risk.
Recent headlines have caused worries among animal lovers, claiming that a colony of more than more than 150,000 Adélie penguins had vanished in Antarctica thanks to a massive iceberg. But according to a report from Discovery News, it may still be too early to start planning their funerals – there’s no actual proof that these birds are really dead.
In another example of what can happen when headlines are repeated and stories retold, the facts about these penguins are hiding among speculation. There were no reports of 150,000 penguin corpses washing up anywhere in Antarctica, and there is little evidence that a single catastrophic event wiped them off the face of the Earth.
So what the heck happened?
Scientists think that the birds’ disappearance has a more reasonable explanation. It’s true that a massive iceberg the size of Rhode Island, named B09B, grounded into Commonwealth Bay’s Mertz Glacier on Cape Denison nearly 6 years ago, in February 2010. The arrival of the iceberg in the bay put a damper on the penguins’ fishing operations, and scientists believe that they simply backed up and moved their colony in search of more fertile grounds.
Since 2011, the penguin population in Commonwealth Bay has dwindled from 150,000 birds to just about 10,000. A new study, published in the journal Antarctic Science, from researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia, predicts that the population in the bay could completely disappear from the area in the next 20 years.
According to co-author Chris Turney from the University of New South Wales, the scene still wasn’t pretty. The ground near the iceberg was covered in dead chicks and abandoned eggs. The size and level of activity of the colony had diminished significantly, suggesting that the decision to leave the bay was not the birds’ first choice.
Dead birds are a common sight in large colonies, as the dry, cold air of Antarctica results in slow rate of decomposition. While it is certainly easy to come up with a shocking narrative for what could have happened to these birds, the fact remains that nobody knows for sure where they went.