Emperor Penguin chicks at colony Snow Hill Island, Antarctica.
David Tipling/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Around 10,000 penguin chicks died after an ice bed they lived on broke apart, the BBC said.
The emperor penguin chicks, who had not yet developed waterproof feathers, died last October.
More than 90% of emperor penguins will be extinct by the end of this century, research shows.
Around 10,000 penguin chicks who had not yet developed waterproof feathers died after an ice bed beneath them melted and broke apart, the BBC reported on Thursday.
The emperor penguin chicks most likely drowned or froze to death after the incident, which occurred in late 2022 in an area off the Antarctic Peninsula, called the Bellingshausen Sea, the outlet said, citing a study published on Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal “Communications Earth & Environment.”
The study shows that the chicks were among four of five colonies that suffered a “catastrophic breeding failure” in the area late last year.
Emperor penguins depend on the sea ice for breeding, foraging, and raising their young, the research said. But their habitat is shrinking due to “large-scale contractions in sea ice extent,” the study added.
“Emperors depend on sea ice for their breeding cycle; it’s the stable platform they use to bring up their young. But if that ice is not as extensive as it should be or breaks up faster, these birds are in trouble,” Dr. Peter Fretwell, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who helped conduct the research, told the BBC.
“There is hope: we can cut our carbon emissions that are causing the warming. But if we don’t we will drive these iconic, beautiful birds to the verge of extinction,” he added.
Smyley Island emperor penguin colony on October 28, 2022 (left) versus December 3, 2022 (right).
Copernicus Sentinel 2
Satellite images examined by the researchers show the colony of penguins disappearing over just a matter of weeks.
An image taken on December 28 last year still shows the colony living on the ice bed. But only two months later, in December 2022, the colony appears to have vanished as bits of ice float in the sea.
The research follows projections by scientists that more than 90% of emperor penguins will be all but extinct by the end of this century amid an ever-warming world.
Over the past seven years, sea ice around Antarctica has decreased significantly, the research said. By the end of December 2022, sea ice extent was the lowest experienced in the 45-year satellite record.