SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists announced Thursday that the world’s second largest emperor penguin colony has suffered “catastrophic breeding failure” and has “all but disappeared,” according to The Hill.
The news was released in a paper published by Antarctica Science.
A group of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey used satellite imagery to monitor the Halley Bay colony area for signs like feces or shadows pointing to population size, according to Antarctica Science.
They say that based on their findings, the colony has suffered tremendously following record-low sea ice and El Niño in 2015.
“Although, like all emperor colonies, there has been large inter-annual variability in the breeding success at this site, the prolonged period of failure is unprecedented in the historical record,” researchers Peter T. Fretwell and Philip N. Trathan said in their abstract about the colony.
According to The Smithsonian, researchers have been studying the Halley Bay penguin colony for 60 years. Between 14,300 and 23,000 pairs have flocked to the site to breed, but the site appears to have been abandoned as a haven for the birds.
Fretwell and Trathan write that the colony’s breeding failure follows the breaking of fast ice in ice creeks that the birds habitually use for breeding.
“For the last 60 years, the sea-ice conditions in the Halley Bay site have been stable and reliable,” the researchers wrote. “But in 2016, after a period of abnormally stormy weather, the sea-ice broke up in October, well before any emperor chicks would have fledged,” or grown the feathers they need to swim.
These extreme conditions were repeated the next two years, resulting in “the death of almost all the chicks at the site each season,” according to The Hill.14 comments on this story
Trathan said, “It is impossible to say whether the changes in sea-ice conditions at Halley Bay are specifically related to climate change, but such a complete failure to breed successfully is unprecedented at this site.”
Scientists noted that a nearby Dawson Lambton penguin colony has seen a visible increase in size, suggesting other penguins have moved there to escape harsh environment and weather conditions.
Scientists plan on continuing to monitor penguin colonies in the area.
According to Trathan, the penguins are likely to lose between 50 and 70 percent "of their numbers by the end of the century” due to changing sea-ice conditions and climate change.