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Adelie Populations Growing

October 14, 2017

By Paul Homewood


h/t Richard Treadgold



Richard has unearthed a more recent study of the population of Adelie penguins, published in January 2017:





Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are increasingly affected by fisheries, climate change and human presence. Antarctic seabirds are vulnerable to all these threats because they depend on terrestrial and marine environments to breed and forage. We assess the current distribution and total abundance of Adélie penguins in East Antarctica and find there are 3.5 (95% CI 2.9–4.2) million individuals of breeding age along the East Antarctic coastline and 5.9 (4.2–7.7) million individuals foraging in the adjacent ocean after the breeding season. One third of the breeding population numbering over 1 million individuals breed within 10 km of research stations, highlighting the potential for human activities to impact Adélie penguin populations despite their current high abundance. The 16 Antarctic Specially Protected Areas currently designated in East Antarctica offer protection to breeding populations close to stations in four of six regional populations. The East Antarctic breeding population consumes an average of 193 500 tonnes of krill and 18 800 tonnes of fish during a breeding season, with consumption peaking at the end of the breeding season. These findings can inform future conservation management decisions in the terrestrial environment under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to develop a systematic network of protected areas, and in the marine environment under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to allow the consumption needs of Adélie penguins to be taken into account when setting fishery catch limits. Extending this work to other penguin, flying seabird, seal and whale species is a priority for conservation management in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.


This builds on results of the 2014 study by Lynch and LaRue, which I referred to yesterday here.

The new study comes up with a figure of 3.5 million in East Antarctica. In comparison, Lynch and LaRue estimated 3.79 for all of Antarctica, including 21% on the Peninsula.

The Southwell paper surmises that the difference may be due to the unavailability of satellite imagery and lack of recent direct counts for a number of East Antarctic breeding sites in Lynch and LaRue’s global assessment.


It is worth reiterating what the Lynch study stated:

Our global total abundance of 3.79 million breeding pairs is 53% larger than the most recent estimate of 2.47 million breeding pairs 20 yr ago (Woehler 1993). This difference of ∼1.3 million breeding pairs can be explained largely by increasing abundance at known colonies (27% of the difference) and abundance estimates of colonies that had not been previously surveyed (explaining 32% of the difference)….

In addition to a genuine increase in the size of known colonies, the increase reflected in our census is, in part, an artifact of estimating abundance at colonies that had never been surveyed before. In fact, mapping abundance and distribution for the largest and most remote Adélie Penguin colonies is one of the major advantages of using high-resolution satellite imagery. Indeed, our finding is similar to the recent global estimate of Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) using satellite imagery (Fretwell et al. 2012) that found nearly double the number of Emperor Penguins expected on the basis of previous estimates, as well as breeding populations previously unknown to science.


In short:

  • Part of the increase since 1993 in population is real
  • Part is due to under measurement in the past.

They also noted that:

LaRue et al. (2013) found that a colony on Beaufort Island, in the southern Ross Sea, grew by 84% in response to glacial retreat and increased habitat availability. We hypothesize that some colonies may be experiencing habitat release where climate changes have caused glacial retreat (LaRue et al. 2013).


All in all, Adelies seem to be doing just fine.

  1. October 14, 2017 6:26 pm

    I don’t expect the BBC to report this good news. They were all doom and gloom about the poor penguins earlier today.

  2. John F. Hultquist permalink
    October 14, 2017 7:11 pm

    Seems to be a lot of these little ones in a (to me) harsh environment without warm houses to live in.
    About 2 feet tall and 10 pounds — imagine (after Lennon’s song) if humans were this size.
    Autos and airplane seats would have to be a smaller size.
    Okay, going back to my room now.

  3. Curious George permalink
    October 14, 2017 7:11 pm

    Climate Change is extremely dangerous. God created the climate to be stable; don’t get confused by denialist’s talk about ice ages. God did not want humans to produce carbon dioxide. God did not give us wings, because He did not want us to fly.

    Can I get any more progressive?

    • Broadlands permalink
      October 14, 2017 9:57 pm

      Don’t worry. If we are reduced to using solar and wind power a few hundred years from now we won’t be flying very far for very long. May even have a problem getting to Mars…taking penguins and polar bears along.

      The protected 60,000 pairs of penguins on Magdalena Island (Chile) are increasing, even spilling over, while being “threatened” by increasing CO2. Go figure?

  4. October 14, 2017 7:52 pm

    I’ve had time this Sunday morning to peruse more closely the Southwell paper and I see that they give a global population estimate. In 4.1 Distribution and abundance they say: “Furthermore, we suggest that the global total population foraging in the Southern Ocean could be around 14–16 million individuals.” They describe the assumptions they made and advise that new counts should be taken to confirm the estimate. But with this latest figure the BBC’s attempted Adelie propaganda dwindles to insignificance.

  5. 1saveenergy permalink
    October 14, 2017 9:21 pm

    “I’ve had time this Sunday morning to peruse more closely the Southwell paper” October 14, 2017 7:52 pm

    Richard, that’s either a typo….or you’re psychic
    it’s still Saturday 14th not Sunday 15th.

  6. markl permalink
    October 14, 2017 10:13 pm

    Broadlands said: …Don’t worry. If we are reduced to using solar and wind power a few hundred years from now we won’t be flying very far for very long…..”

    But the elite class will. They will justify it based on their need according to their contributions to society. Fossil fuels will be saved for their use only and producing more “sustainable renewables” [sic] for the masses to suffer with.

    • ian Johnson permalink
      October 14, 2017 11:52 pm

      Based on their Seed could be more apt. There is no future without fossil fuels.

  7. tom0mason permalink
    October 15, 2017 11:15 am

    It would seem that neither reporters nor scientists have heard of Darwin…

    From Darwin’s The Origin of Species

    Page 82 Nature of the Checks to Increase.

    Climate plays an important part in determining the average numbers of a species, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought seem to be the most effective of all checks. I estimate (chiefly from the greatly reduced numbers of nests in the spring) that the winter of 1854-5 destroyed four-fifths of the birds in my own grounds; and this is a tremendous destruction, when we remember that ten per cent. is an extraordinarily sever mortality from epidemics with man. The action of the climate seems at first sight to be quite independent of the struggle for existance; but in so far as climate chiefly acts in reducing food, it brings on the most severe struggle between the individuals, whether of the same or of distinct species, which subsist on the same kind of food. Even climate , for instance extreme cold, acts directly, it will be the least vigorous individuals, or those which have got least food through the advancing winter, which suffer the most. When we travel from south to north, or from a damp region to a dry, we invariably see some species gradually getting rarer and rarer, and finally disappearing; and the change of climate being conspicuous, we are tempted to attribute the whole effect to direct action. But this is false view; we forget that each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree favoured by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers; and as each area is already fully stocked with inhabitants, the other species must decrease.

    No need to feed guilty it is the way NATURE does things.

    Nature red in tooth and claw, deathly white in ice and snow.

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