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Turney And The “Dead” Penguins

February 22, 2016

By Paul Homewood  




You may recall that I covered the story last week about claims that 150,000 penguins died because of climate change. This story was widely reported amongst the world’s press.

I suggested at the time that the claims were nonsense, and it now turns out that Dr. Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota, agrees.

Daily Beast takes up the story:


You may have read that an Antarctic colony of penguins was trapped by an iceberg and died, killed by climate change. But there’s a twist: All parts of the story turn out to be untrue.

Some good news for 150,000 dead penguins in Antarctica: They might not be dead. Bad news: There may not be any hope for the rest of us.

Major news outlets ran with a widely mischaracterized study from Australian and New Zealand researchers in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, saying enough penguins to fill three Yankee Stadiums had been trapped by an iceberg and, unable to fend for themselves, died.

The Guardian issued a death notice, saying “150,000 Penguins Die After Giant Iceberg Renders Colony Landlocked.” Other news sources issuing death certificates included the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, and CNN.

Bit of a problem: The research paper doesn’t—and never did—say that. Some penguins may have died, because penguins aren’t immortal. Others probably just moved.

“Maybe these birds moved. Maybe they died. There’s multiple scenarios that could’ve happened here,” Dr. Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota, told The Daily Beast. “But nowhere in the paper said there was death and destruction.”

LaRue would know. She did the initial census on the Adélie penguins two years prior to the study done by University of New South Wales researchers that came out early this month.

“I doubt [widespread death and destruction], and the reason I doubt that is that the behavior of Adélie penguins has already been observed in similar circumstances,” she said.

Their migratory patterns were recorded in 2001 after the iceberg B-15 caused them to move, she said.

“It caused them to move a lot more than they normally do. There’s no reason to believe a colony in a similar situation didn’t do the same thing,” she said. “It’s not as fun to report and I get that. At the same time, [the initial reports are] inaccurate. There wasn’t anything in the paper saying these animals died.”

LaRue made the rounds midweek to gently nudge some news outlets closer to reality, and then headlines appeared that made it seem like the 150,000 penguins had been hiding under rubble the whole time and there was a brand new development, or that the penguins had come back from the dead. (“Adélie Penguins May Have Survived Iceberg Grounding In Antarctica,” wrote Nature World News.)

The only thing The Daily Beast can confirm is that there are no zombie penguins, just zombie reporters.

We’ll know eventually from satellite photos just how dead the penguins are, but LaRue wants to make two things clear:

• The research paper never killed—or unkilled—a Tallahassee-size pride of penguins.

• Even if it did, the rush to link the so-called kill-off to climate change—which outlets then did—is equally nuts., for example, wrote, “150,000 Penguins Have Disappeared in Antarctica. Thanks, Climate Change!”

“They likely have nothing to do with each other,” said LaRue. “This is an iceberg. It’s the thing I find commonly, doing work in the Antarctic. Certain outlets will make links when there aren’t any. It’s ridiculous."

And here’s the dumbest part of this entire saga: Somebody then tried to use LaRue’s public revisions of the initial stories to say, hey, climate change ain’t so bad!

“Contrary to Grist’s sarcastic headline, the Adélie penguins—if given a say—might be thankful for some global warming,” wrote Financial Post’s Lawrence Solomon.

He said it might be easier for them to nest that way. That’s like saying a good way to warm up your house this winter is to burn it to the ground.

“Ugh, yeah,” said LaRue. “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Please, Ice Gods, spare the penguins next time. Take us.



Although the MSM likes a good disaster story, the Daily Beast have missed one significant point. Why did pretty much all of them fall for the story and say the same thing?

After all, as they say, there was nothing in the paper itself to justify the scare, or for that matter the press release, which only carried the statement of the lead author, Kerry-Jayne Wilson.

So, step forward co-author, Chris Turney, leader of the Ship of Fools expedition which carried out the penguin count. He is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald and other newspapers :


"It’s eerily silent now," Professor Turney said. "The ones that we saw at Cape Denison were incredibly docile, lethargic, almost unaware of your existence. The ones that are surviving are clearly struggling. They can barely survive themselves, let alone hatch the next generation. We saw lots of dead birds on the ground … it’s just heartbreaking to see."

As the planet warms you’re going to get more ice melting. The reality is, more icebergs will be released from Antarctica and just embed themselves along the coastline, and make the travelling distances for some of these colonies even further than they have been."

Adélie penguins usually return to the colony where they hatched and try to return to the same mate and nest. Professor Turney said the Cape Denison penguins could face a grim future. "They don’t migrate," he said. "They’re stuck there. They’re dying."


Unsurprisingly, the media fell for Turney’s misdirection, which was no doubt his intention.

  1. February 23, 2016 5:50 am

    Even more unbelievable and proof of the mad world we live in, is the fact that liars like Turkey keep their jobs. (I’m leaving the prescient autocorrect in place!)

  2. February 23, 2016 6:20 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    Whew! No Penguageddon.

  3. Adrian permalink
    February 23, 2016 7:54 am

    Despite the usual media bias bovine faeces the interesting point about this issue is surely to do with the fact that such an event has never happened before.

    Are these stupid little over-funded fools really saying that through ecological time an iceberg not blocked a penguin colony previously??

    I think it could be time, and I know it’s radical, but mebbe we could start employing research scientists based on their intelligence and rationality rather than the size of their ego’s and their gobs.

  4. February 23, 2016 12:21 pm

    We have an insight into the abject helplessness of these wizards should they face adverse conditions. Clearly they would be unable to adapt and survive any changes to their everyday life. In the past, “survival of the fittest” culled the unfit and foolish. Although it still applies to penguins, humans have overcome it. We find ourselves surrounded by the foolish.

  5. February 23, 2016 5:00 pm

    Confirmation bias leads the media climate nuts up yet another garden path. When will they ever wise up?

    • February 24, 2016 7:09 am

      Yep, Journalism should spot and call out bad science ..not just lap it up and hype it.
      ..modern jornalism is in a poor state led by the BBC, Guardian, Indy, Huff-Po (who don’t pay writers, so get propaganda)
      …Where the F are the FT, Times and Telegraph, D Mail calling out this BS ?

  6. February 24, 2016 7:06 am

    Chris Turney’s work is stamped
    ….”Dramagreen PR not science
    …. from member of the Lew-niverse”

    along with Lew, Oreskes, Grimes, Cook, Wadhams etc.
    but bless the honest scientists who call out bad science

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