Climate Change Endangers Emperor Penguins’ Breeding Cycle


Emperor Penguins Face Quasi-Extinction by End of the Century

Emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica are experiencing a massive breeding failure due to the loss of sea ice, according to a new study. The British Antarctic Survey researchers have estimated that 90% of these colonies could become quasi-extinct by the end of the century following the current global warming trends.

In the study, published in Communications Earth & Environment, the scientists reported a likely total breeding failure among four out of five emperor penguin colonies in the central and eastern Bellingshausen Sea. The conclusions were drawn from satellite images highlighting the absence of sea ice at breeding sites, well ahead of the chicks developing waterproof feathers.

Emperor penguins rely on stable, shore-attached sea ice from April to January for breeding. They lay eggs in the Antarctic winter from May to June, which hatch after 65 days, and the chicks don’t fledge until summer, between December and January.

The year 2022 saw total sea ice loss in November in the Bellingshausen Sea region, west of the Antarctic Peninsula. “We have never seen emperor penguins fail to breed, at this scale, in a single season. The loss of sea ice in this region during the Antarctic summer made it very unlikely that displaced chicks would survive,” said lead author Dr. Peter Fretwell.

Adding to the crisis, recent forecasts of sea ice loss indicate a grim future for the emperor penguin colonies. Sea physicist Dr. Jeremy Wilkinson says, “This paper dramatically reveals the connection between sea ice loss and ecosystem annihilation… It is another warning sign for humanity that we cannot continue down this path.”

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