King Penguins: going…going…gone?

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The colony of King Penguins on Pig Island in the Southern Indian Ocean is down by 90% and researchers are trying to figure out what may have caused this drastic decline in numbers.

In 1982, researchers who had visited the island counted nearly 500,000 pairs in the colony making it one of the largest King Penguin colonies in the world. Today, they estimate that only 60,000 pairs are left. This huge decline in numbers of the population of King Penguins may put them on the endangered list.

Researcher Dr. Henri Weimerskirch, who has been a part of the research team in 1982 and 2016, said that these new findings are “…really very depressing.” The research team is unable to visit the island before late 2019 due to cost and timing issues.

What could be the reasons behind this decline?

One of the main reasons being considered is climate change. In 1997, due to El Nino, an extreme weather event that increased the temperatures in that area, the food source of the penguins seemed to have moved away further south. Penguin parents usually swim to find food for their chicks and if they don’t return within a week, the chicks starve to death. This may have been the reason in the drastic downsizing of the colony.

However, most other colonies of King Penguins that were affected by this weather change seemed to have recovered their numbers. This has led the researchers to consider other reasons such as competition for food and resources, avian (bird) diseases and a possibility that some of the birds may have relocated to other areas.

Interesting to know…

Penguins return to the same location year after year to have their chicks. However it seems that the penguins are willing to relocate their nesting grounds in order to adapt to the climate change.


Adapted by Preetika Soni from an article in The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/31/science/king-penguin-decline-antarctica.html

 

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