Living in Antarctica isn’t easy, even if you’re a penguin.

On the eastern portion of the continent is an area named Terre Adélie, where there’s a big colony of 40,000 Adélie penguins. This year, French scientists reported that something went terribly wrong for the chicks and unhatched eggs.

Out of about 18,000 breeding pairs of these black-and-white birds, the scientists found only two chicks survived!

Adélies are able to start reproducing at around 3–5 years of age and can live to around 20.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this penguin population experienced a failed breeding season. Four years ago, not a single Adélie chick survived in this largecolony. But before that, such an event hadn’t happened in 50 years!

Near the beginning of the year, the scientists came across thousands of chicks that appeared to have starved to death, and thousands of eggs never hatched. So what went wrong?

Researchers of the 2014 breeding season failure of this colony pointed to an record amount of sea ice blocking their feeding waters, where these flightless, fast-swimming feathered friends feast on krill. Sea ice is formed when portions of the ocean freeze, creating a giant jigsaw puzzle of floating ice. The poor penguins had to swim an extra 62 miles to reach their food.

While most of Antarctica had low amounts of sea ice this year, the portion off of Terre Adélie was packed, probably making it pretty impossible for the parent penguins to put food on the plate.

These failed breeding seasons have PROMPTED biologists and conservation groups to call for a Marine Protection Area for East Antarctica in hopes of giving this bird colony the food it needs to survive. But so far, the international committee that protects wildlife at the South Pole has refused.

Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
November 2017