Accessibility links

Breaking News

Scientists Report Mass Antarctic Penguin Die-Off  

FILE - Crowds of emperor penguins on the ice in Antarctica on Dec. 21, 2005.

According to a new study, thousands of baby emperor penguins drowned last year in Antarctica after sea ice broke up early. The British Antarctic Survey is blaming climate change and says satellite images suggest as many as 10,000 baby penguins may have died.

Emperor penguins are the largest of the 18 species of penguin, and one of the largest of all birds.

British scientists have reported an alarming die-off of chicks after reviewing data from the European Union's Sentinel-2 satellites.

The research shows four of five emperor penguin colonies in the Bellingshausen Sea near the Antarctic Peninsula suffered a “catastrophic breeding failure” at the end of last year.

It is the first time such a widespread regional breeding collapse has been recorded in emperor penguins.

Warming seas prematurely melted the ocean ice, killing baby penguins before they were mature enough to survive. Scientists say when the ice breaks up too soon because of global warming, the chicks fall into the water and drown or freeze. The study by the British Antarctic Survey, the national polar research institute, was published Friday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

FILE - In this June 21, 2011 file photo, an Emperor penguin stands on Peka Peka Beach of the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand.
FILE - In this June 21, 2011 file photo, an Emperor penguin stands on Peka Peka Beach of the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand.

Mary-Anne Lea, a professor at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. breeding collapses this year could be even worse than those documented last year.

“The changes in Antarctica are happening far faster than any of us would’ve predicted. We can only hope that this is some kind of aberration in this region but the extent of winter sea ice this year would indicate that similar events may occur for Emperor penguins and other species this coming summer,” she said.

Wild emperor penguins are only found in Antarctica. They breed and raise their chicks mostly on floating sections of ice, which is connected to land or to other ice shelves.

Researchers believe that emperor penguins could be mostly extinct by the end of the century because of warmer seas caused by climate change.

They are currently listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which documents the most endangered species.