Penguin colony at risk after iceberg blocks feeding grounds

Antarctic group could be wiped out within two decades, say researchers

A baby Adelie penguin with its mother 
(Image credit: Kahzuiro Ngoi/Getty)

Scientists say a large colony of Antarctic penguins could be wiped out within 20 years after an iceberg the size of a small country blocked off a large part of the home.

Australian researchers have been studying the development of a colony of Adelie penguins at Cape Denison since the iceberg, known as B09B, collided with the coastline in 2011. Their observations, published in the Antarctic Science Journal, paint a worrying picture for the future of the remaining 11,040 animals.

B09B has settled in Commonwealth Bay, where the colony, which numbered more than 100,000 just a few years ago, once had their feeding grounds. Its position means it is blocking the strong winds that once blew away the ice sheets over the waters and kept a large area open for the penguins to use. The animals now have a 70-mile round journey to feed and as a result, the population has been decimated over just a few years.

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The researchers say that many of the surviving colony have become docile and that hatching seems to have stopped altogether, with hundreds of eggs lying abandoned and the bodies of frozen chicks littering the area.

A similar group of Adelie penguins a few miles up the coast from the ice sheets appear to be thriving, suggesting B09B has been responsible for the decline of the Cape Denison colony.

If the situation continues, the scientists say the colony could be wiped out in 20 years.

It seems the penguins' only chance of survival is if B09B shifts, which would allow them access to the Commonwealth Bay feeding grounds once more. However, one of the study's authors, Professor Chris Turney, of the University of New South Wales, told IFL Science it was impossible to know whether the iceberg will move in time to save the colony from extinction.

"We have no idea how long B09B will stay there. It could move this year, or it could be there for decades to centuries," he said.

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