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Too Much Ice ? Not Enough Ice? Eco Alarm As Penguin Chicks Die

October 13, 2017

By Paul Homewood


This story has been doing the rounds today. This is from the Guardian:


A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica has suffered a “catastrophic breeding event” – all but two chicks have died of starvation this year. It is the second time in just four years that such devastation – not previously seen in more than 50 years of observation – has been wrought on the population.

The finding has prompted urgent calls for the establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarctica, at next week’s meeting of 24 nations and the European Union at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart.

Penguins starving to death is a sign that something’s very wrong in the Antarctic

John Sauven


In the colony of about 18,000 breeding penguin pairs on Petrels Island, French scientists discovered just two surviving chicks at the start of the year. Thousands of starved chicks and unhatched eggs were found across the island in the region called Adélie Land (“Terre Adélie”).

The colony had experienced a similar event in 2013, when no chicks survived. In a paper about that event, a group of researchers, led by Yan Ropert-Coudert from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said it had been caused by a record amount of summer sea ice and an “unprecedented rainy episode”.

The unusual extent of sea ice meant the penguins had to travel an extra 100km to forage for food. And the rainy weather left the chicks, which have poor waterproofing, wet and unable to keep warm.

This year’s event has also been attributed to an unusually large amount of sea ice. Overall, Antarctica has had a record low amount of summer sea ice, but the area around the colony has been an exception.

Ropert-Coudert said the region had been severely affected by the break-up of the Mertz glacier tongue in 2010, when a piece of ice almost the size of Luxembourg – about 80 km long and 40km wide – broke off. That event, which occurred about 250km from Petrels Island, had a big impact on ocean currents and ice formation in the region.

“The Mertz glacier impact on the region sets the scene in 2010 and when unusual meteorological events, driven by large climatic variations, hit in some years this leads to massive failures,” Ropert-Coudert told the Guardian. “In other words, there may still be years when the breeding will be OK, or even good for this colony, but the scene is set for massive impacts to hit on a more or less regular basis.”

The link between climate change and the sea-ice extent around Antarctica is not very clear. Sea ice has been increasing in recent years, which could be attributed to a rise in the amount of freshwater in the ocean around the continent caused by climate change. However, over the long term, climate change is expected to cause the sea ice to shrink dramatically.

“For the moment, sea ice is increasing and this is a problem for this species as it pushes the feeding place – the sea ice edge – farther away from their nesting place,” Ropert-Coudert said. “If it shrinks it would help but if it shrinks too much then the food chain they rely on may be impacted. Basically, as a creature of the sea ice they need an optimum sea-ice cover to thrive.”

Elsewhere, human pressures including climate change have already been having a severe impact on the numbers of Adélie penguins. On the Antarctic Peninsula, which has been badly affected by climate change, populations have been decreasing, and some researchers suggest they may become extinct there.

Ropert-Coudert said there were more anthropogenic threats on the horizon – fishing and possibly tourism – that the penguins needed protection from.

He has called for a marine protected area (MPA) to be established there.

“An MPA will not remedy these changes but it could prevent further impacts that direct anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism and proposed fisheries, could bring,” he said.

Next week, 24 countries and the European Union will meet at the CCAMLR in Hobart to discuss the potential creation of more MPAs around Antarctica.

At last year’s meeting, after years of failed negotiations, the members agreed to create the world’s largest MPA in the Ross Sea, and many expect the group to agree on East Antarctica next.

This has also been proposed by Australia and has been on the table at the CCAMLR for eight years.

The head of polar programs at WWF, Rod Downie, said: “Adélie penguins are one of the hardiest and most amazing animals on our planet. This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins. It’s more like ‘Tarantino does Happy Feet’, with dead penguin chicks strewn across a beach in Adélie Land.

“The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adélie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable. So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off East Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins.”


In reality, this has nothing to do with climate change. As was reported last year, a rather large iceberg, which had been floating around the coast for twenty years, became trapped in Commonwealth Bay, thus locking in the sea ice.

There is nothing remotely unusual about such icebergs. This is what happens when glaciers calve.

Eco nutters seem to have the almost disneyesque belief that all animals would live an idyllic life, if it was not for nasty mankind spoiling it for them. In reality, nature is hard, very hard. Instances like this one can happen anytime.


But what does this mean for the Adelie population as whole? Is it threatened as the Guardian implies?

Interestingly, in contrast, an Adélie population a short distance away on the eastern fringe of Commonwealth Bay, is thriving, as it is just 8km away from the fast ice edge.

And as Antarctic expert, David Killick, explained at the time, Adelie populations at Cape Denison have ebbed and flowed down the years:



As for Antarctica as a whole, Lynch and LaRue published a paper in 2014, “First global census of the Adélie Penguin”:



We report on the first global census of the Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae), achieved using a combination of ground counts and satellite imagery, and find a breeding population 53% larger (3.79 million breeding pairs) than the last estimate in 1993. We provide the first abundance estimates for 41 previously unsurveyed colonies, which collectively contain 420,000 breeding pairs, and report on 17 previously unknown colonies, 11 of which may be recent colonizations. These recent colonizations represent ∼5% of the increase in known breeding population and provide insight into the ability of these highly philopatric seabirds to colonize new breeding territories. Additionally, we report on 13 colonies not found in the survey, including 8 that we conclude have gone extinct. We find that Adélie Penguin declines on the Antarctic Peninsula are more than offset by increases in East Antarctica. Our global population assessment provides a robust baseline for understanding future changes in abundance and distribution. These results are a critically needed contribution to ongoing negotiations regarding the design and implementation of Marine Protected Areas for the Southern Ocean.


Clearly the Adelie penguins are doing just fine.


There is one more issue.

Krill is an extremely important part of the Adelie diet, for which they are in competition with whales and seals.

When whale and seal populations were nearly wiped out in the Southern Ocean during the 19thC by hunting, Adelie populations naturally thrived. Now the competition has returned, it is little surprise that there are not as many Adelies around as when Mawson camped amongst them in 1911.





Why don´t you see penguins in Britain?

Because they’re afraid of Wales.

No? Well what about this one?

What’s black and white and goes round and around?

A Penguin in a revolving door.


Well, it is Friday chaps!

  1. October 13, 2017 7:35 pm

    Perhaps they should ship some polar bears out there, they would be delighted with all that ice

  2. October 13, 2017 7:50 pm

    Scary Scary that massive iceberg that broke off the Antarctic Peninsula in July must be outside Capetown by now
    Er no Iceberg A68 seems to have hardly moved

  3. Peter Stokes permalink
    October 13, 2017 8:38 pm

    I’m sure, as normal, Paul’s version of events is based primarily on facts and not the self serving fiction the Guardian prefers to deal up to satisfy the crowdthink of its typical leftie liberal readership. However there is possibly an error when making the point about the krill feedstock. When I was in Antarctica a couple of years ago our party was talking with some biologist researchers who informed us that contrary to logic krill population increased with increased whale populations, an effect that was not fully understood. As whale populations have made remarkable recoveries since hunting was virtually halted (the east Australian humpback population, for example, has increased from a few hundred in the 1960’s to around 26,000 today), then that effect is probably validated, and is one that should also help Adele penguins.
    What the Guardian and humanity in general should be fighting could be the biggest threat to this primary food source for wildlife in Antarctica, as the Chinese are developing huge fleets of trawlers to plunder the krill, indiscriminately and unchallenged it seems!

    • October 13, 2017 9:39 pm

      You gotta love the way newspeak scientists say “not fully understood” when what they mean is “whisky tango foxtrot?” But I guess they have to protect their grants somehow.

    • Athelstan permalink
      October 13, 2017 10:51 pm

      As soon as I read the story, it is mankind alright but not a lot to do with the climate.

      More to do with [ ruddy great factory ships] interference in the food chain, ie massive over fishing or, in this case serial raiding of planktonic species.

      As usual the eejits of green alarmunism jump straight away to the wrong conclusion by ignoring studied investigative method and by using scatter brained non applicable supposition.

    • Bloke down the pub permalink
      October 14, 2017 9:27 am

      Every now and then , we hear from the greens that fish farming is the future of food production. It is unfortunate that they forget that the food fed to the farmed fish is itself harvested from the sea and krill from Antarctic waters is one such feedstock.

  4. October 13, 2017 9:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  5. CheshireRed permalink
    October 13, 2017 10:02 pm

    They’re in a right stew at the Guardian as this increased sea ice lark doesn’t fit with any climate projection whatsoever, and they know it. Cue lots of impressive -sounding ‘explanations’ for something none of their august readers (nor John Sauven for that matter) can explain. More contortions than on a Christmas game of Twister. Hilarious.

  6. Graeme No.3 permalink
    October 13, 2017 10:47 pm

    Surely The Guardian can see the obvious solution. The penguins must get (subsidised) SUV’s to make the trip to the ocean easier and quicker. I would suggest Teslas except, as I am sure even a Guardian reporter knows (I hope), batteries don’t work well on ice.

  7. October 13, 2017 11:30 pm

    Earlier this year a large-scale population assessment was published that concluded there were 5.8 million Adelies in East Antarctica. This was over twice as many as previously reported. I wonder why the Guardian doesn’t mention this? Note that the colony of 40,000 reported here as being in trouble (and trouble it certainly is) represents a drop in an ocean of millions of Adelies and, tragic though it is, the species itself is not threatened.

  8. October 14, 2017 3:06 am

    “establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarctica”

    the protected area concept has to do with protecting fragile elements of nature from anthropogenic harm. if no evidence of anthropogenic harm to save these penguins from then the protected area itself is an anthropogenic intrusion into nature.
    our ego is out of control.

  9. Ben Vorlich permalink
    October 14, 2017 6:40 am

    Has the Guardian reported the pause in sea level rise According to NOAA it hasn’t risen since July 2015 (84.5 mm since 1990) and July 2017 (84.88mm)? There have been fluctuations but it has been pretty flat for 2 years the peak was January 2016 since when it has declined. July 2017 is the most recent data here:

  10. Bitter&twisted permalink
    October 14, 2017 7:32 am

    Turney. Now that name rings a bell.
    Ship of Fools?

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      October 14, 2017 9:51 am

      The very same! I’m afraid I stopped reading as soon as the word appeared.

      The Wadham of the South (or is Wadham the Turney of the North? I think we should be told).

      Presumably they never get to meet each other!

  11. October 14, 2017 9:00 am

    The WWF are all over this like a cheap suit, now that snow leopards are no longer an endangered species, and polar bears never were.

    • October 14, 2017 10:01 am

      Ambulance-chasing again.

      • RAH permalink
        October 14, 2017 10:38 am

        More like fund chasing scammers. The WWF is without a doubt nothing more than a money grubbing operation that latches on to any claim that it thinks will strike the right emotional cord in the cognitively challenged to get them to open up their wallets regardless of the accuracy or veracity of the claims.

  12. Elliott permalink
    October 14, 2017 11:19 am

    Interesting that this story should emerge at the end of Antarctic winter. Do penguins breed in the winter? Or is there another reason for these reports appearing right now rather than in the Antarctic spring, when the results of breeding should become obvious?

    • ewing.caldwell permalink
      October 14, 2017 12:43 pm

      the timing is the return of the scientists and science missions to the ice. The penguins just happen to live there. The scientists are mostly a migratory species.

      The scientist migration usually arrives in late September, around the Antarctic vernal equinox (21st September).

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