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Emperor Penguins “Wiped Out”

April 25, 2019

By Paul Homewood



Thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned when the sea-ice on which they were being raised was destroyed in severe weather.

The catastrophe occurred in 2016 in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea.

Scientists say the colony at the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf has collapsed with adult birds showing no sign of trying to re-establish the population.

And it would probably be pointless for them to try as a giant iceberg is about to disrupt the site.

The dramatic loss of the young emperor birds is reported by a team from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

Drs Peter Fretwell and Phil Trathan noticed the disappearance of the so-called Halley Bay colony in satellite pictures.

It is possible even from 800km up to spot the animals’ excrement, or guano, on the white ice and then to estimate the likely size of any gathering.

But the Brunt population, which had sustained an average of 14,000 to 25,000 breeding pairs for several decades (5-9% of the global population), essentially disappeared overnight.

Image copyright DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company Image caption 2015: The guano stains at Halley colony are visible from space

Emperors are the tallest and heaviest of the penguin species and need reliable patches of sea-ice on which to breed, and this icy platform must persist from April, when the birds arrive, until December, when their chicks fledge.

If the sea-ice breaks up too early, the young birds will not have the right feathers to start swimming.

This appears to have been what happened in 2016.

Strong winds hollowed out the sea-ice that had stuck hard to the side of the thicker Brunt shelf in its creeks, and never properly reformed. Not in 2017, nor in 2018.

Dr Fretwell said: "The sea-ice that’s formed since 2016 hasn’t been as strong. Storm events that occur in October and November will now blow it out early. So there’s been some sort of regime change. Sea-ice that was previously stable and reliable is now just untenable."

The BAS team believes many adults have either avoided breeding in these later years or moved to new breeding sites across the Weddell Sea. A colony some 50km away, close to the Dawson-Lambton Glacier, has seen a big rise in its numbers.

Quite why the sea-ice platform on the edge of the Brunt shelf has failed to regenerate is unclear. There is no obvious climate signal to point to in this case; atmospheric and ocean observations in the vicinity of the Brunt reveal little in the way of change.

But the sensitivity of this colony to shifting sea-ice trends does illustrate, says the team, the impact that future warming in Antarctica could have on emperor penguins in particular.

Research suggests the species might lose anywhere between 50% and 70% of its global population by the end of this century, if sea-ice is reduced to the extent that computer models envisage.


Strangely the BBC forgot to mention the key factor. This is the Abstract of the Fretwell & Trathan paper: (my bold)

Satellite imagery is used to show that the world’s second largest emperor penguin colony, at Halley Bay, has suffered three years of almost total breeding failure. 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. The observed events followed the early breakup of the fast ice in the ice creeks that the birds habitually used for breeding. The initial breakup was associated with a particularly stormy period in September 2015, which corresponded with the strongest El Niño in over 60 years, strong winds, and a record low sea-ice year locally. Conditions have not recovered in the two years since. Meanwhile, during the same three-year period, the nearby Dawson-Lambton colony, 55 km to the south, has seen a more than tenfold increase in penguin numbers. The authors associate this with immigration from the birds previously breeding at Halley Bay. Studying this ‘tale of two cities’ provides valuable information relevant to modelling penguin movement under future climate change scenarios.


The paper goes on:

The breeding failure and reasons for relocation are almost certainly linked to the early breakup of sea ice at the Halley Bay site (Barbraud & Weimerskirch 2001, Barbraud et al. 2011), but exactly why that breakup occurred is unknown. It is interesting that the first year of poor sea-ice conditions immediately followed the strongest El Niño in over 60 years, one of the most positive values of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and a record low sea-ice year for Halley Bay. ….

The authors describe an unprecedented three-year period of breeding failure at the large Halley Bay emperor penguin colony. They link this to a dramatic rise in the population of the nearby Dawson-Lambton colony, a rise that can only have occurred due to immigration from Halley. These changes have been driven by a change in sea-ice conditions and early breakup of fast ice on the northern side of the Brunt Ice Shelf, which may be due to ENSO events and/or ice-shelf morphology.


The exact cause of the ice break up may not be known, but it seems highly likely that the record El Nino was a major factor, as well as other natural factors.


Collapses of emperor penguin colonies like this one aren’t unheard of. For instance, the colony at Cape Crozier was virtually wiped out in 2002, when a giant iceberg blocked the bay.

The same colony was also said to have shrunk drastically between the first visits by the Discovery expedition in 1902, and the Terra Nova one in 1910.

It is estimated that there are 595,000 emperor penguins, and they are spread pretty much all around Antarctica. It is well established that when colonies die out, most penguins move to other locations.

The media love to portray these events in emotional, humanised terms – “thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned

Unfortunately though, this is nature in action.

  1. Immune to propaganda permalink
    April 25, 2019 6:42 pm

    In other words nobody really knows but anything can and will be catastrophised by the disgraceful eco fascist BBC we are forced to fund.

  2. Joe Public permalink
    April 25, 2019 6:52 pm

    “It is possible even from 800km up to spot the animals’ excrement, or guano, ”

    Yet not possible until 2018, to spot a previously undiscovered supercolony!

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      April 26, 2019 8:03 pm

      But you can spot BBC BS from outer space!

      • Joe Public permalink
        April 26, 2019 10:18 pm


  3. Broadlands permalink
    April 25, 2019 7:23 pm

    The 2015 El-Nino anomaly was hardly different from the strong 1982 and 1997 versions (NINO 3.4). But, the important point remains…. all of that was natural and unrelated to human-added CO2. An additional factor could be the upwelling that takes place in the Weddell Sea from abyssal depths.

    • April 26, 2019 9:18 am

      Yes. The Wendell sea happens to sit right over and between the two active volcanic rifts beneath West Antarctica. Do I need to say more?

      • April 26, 2019 1:22 pm

        Anthony Watts announced those volcanoes in in January 2008.

        However, recently the climate crowd poo-pooed the notion that the sun had anything to do with earth’s temperature fluctuations. We are in an 11-year cycle of low sunspot activity.

        So heat from a volcano or the sun? Nah. Don’t be silly.

  4. MrGrimNasty permalink
    April 25, 2019 7:37 pm

    Been hearing this all over the BBC all day, usual, we can’t blame this one thing on climate change BUT IT IS CLIMATE CHANGE narrative.

    Emma Thompson has just been given a platform to spout XR propaganda on the one show, she thinks the IPCC is a conservative body with its 12 year warming.

    Only a few days until my licence expires.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      April 25, 2019 7:41 pm


  5. Athelstan. permalink
    April 25, 2019 7:38 pm

    Nothing but nothing is permanent in an ‘iced over’ continent, yes of course ice moves and is subject to other forces, who knew – well we all did and so do the Emperor Penguins erm, apart from the SJWs aka the green nutters and the looby loo mentals in the beeb.

    Funny to relate that, Emperor Penguins are tough boogers, it’s a good job they ain’t soft headed saccharined sweeties, luvvie sentimentalists like the illiberalis and norf Islington beeb posse. Indeed and glory be! Penguin are survivors, they have to be and a few loses of chicks ain’t going to phase them, not in the slightest, they just move on, hip hoo bloody ray for Nature in all of its perpetually enduring and terrible majesty.

  6. Athelstan. permalink
    April 25, 2019 7:39 pm

    phase = faze, apols.

  7. AZ1971 permalink
    April 25, 2019 7:46 pm

    Winds, not emissions—lest the climate catastrophists ignore the obvious.

    • dave permalink
      April 25, 2019 8:57 pm

      “…ignore the obvious…”

      Of course ‘they’ ignore the obvious. They are bleeding morons. It is that simple.

      Why ‘the people’ follow the morons is a mystery.

      Except that… it is has something to do with prolonged compulsory schooling.
      For this involves an unnatural, humiliating, psychologically damaging, extension of the adolescent stage with all its angst.

  8. Sheri permalink
    April 25, 2019 10:10 pm

    Ghost towns mean human beings were wiped out, right?

  9. Gamecock permalink
    April 25, 2019 10:18 pm

    Killing polar bears isn’t getting them anywhere anymore. So they are going to kill penguins. Til that doesn’t work anymore.

  10. Mack permalink
    April 25, 2019 10:57 pm

    So, the weather / ice conditions in Halley Bay were crap due to natural cyclical events and most of the penguins scarpered. Meanwhile, the conditions in the neighbouring colony of Dawson-Lambton were rather better and that colony’s numbers simultaneously expanded, most likely from expatriots from Halley Bay. Who knew that Penguins could think with their ‘Little Feet’? But, despite no evidence whatsoever, the underlying narrative of this paper seems to be that the disappearance of the Halley Bay colony, and similar future episodes will be, most probably, all our fault. Right, got it. Was the paper peer reviewed by Greta of Midwich by any chance?

    • bobn permalink
      April 26, 2019 12:51 am

      Spot on. They show no evidence that a single penguin has died. The penguins simply decided it was better over at the Dawson site and moved house. No drama, no issue.

      • dave permalink
        April 26, 2019 8:15 am

        Emperor Penguins are the only Species of penguins that give birth on the ice, and incubate them over the winter. All other Species give birth on land, in the Spring.

        As usual, ‘Nature’ – in effect – hedges its bets and has an answer for every change or contingency, in the sense that abundant Life as a whole shall continue as a phenomenon on this planet.

        Any individual Species or population – including Man – is completely expendable. Which is why it is likely that literally trillions of Species have flourished over billions of years, in every nook and cranny of the Earth, Sea and Sky – and then disappeared.

        The necessity for the extinction of species is the hidden part of Darwin’s theory. Whether it is an entirely blind process is, of course, another question.

      • Gamecock permalink
        April 26, 2019 11:39 am

        True, Dave. We care about death; nature doesn’t.

      • dave permalink
        April 26, 2019 12:16 pm

        “…give birth…”

        Perhaps “lay eggs” is better.

        ‘March of the Penguins’ was a good documentary. ‘Farce of the Penguins’ with imagined voice-overs was funny.

  11. buchanlad permalink
    April 25, 2019 11:12 pm

    St Greta somehow makes me think of mediaeval moments of madness . Apocalyptic gloom .
    End of days . Never a glimmer of a smile . Its a CULT . We all know what that entails and some ( viz Scientology ) endure unless banned.
    I need advice about my Beeb licence . Do I just stop paying cos it has broken all its own rules over the CC farrago ? But I hugely admire many parts of the Corporation’s output such as music and docus and theatre etc . What to do ?

    • Nick Lawden permalink
      April 26, 2019 1:14 pm

      I cancelled mine when it came up for renewal last September, because I was sick of it’s Climate Change agenda, blatant anti-Brexit bias and the general feeling that there was barely a programme where I did not feel I was being preached at.

      Without a licence you should not watch/record any live TV… or BBC iPlayer. But all the other TV catchup services are still available to you.

      I only really miss BBC4 on iPlayer…but there is soooooooo much more content on YouTube + you can still choose Netflix or Amazon Prime if you want it.

      Not feeling icky at the knowledge you are subsidising the BBC is a wonderful feeling!

      If you don’t have a cable or Sky subscription (I’m guessing that the BBC will cross reference with Virgin/Sky subscribers) cancelling, it is very easy. Here is the link :

      You need to manually write why you wish to cancel. I just told them my reason was that I simply do not watch any more of their content any more… and within a day I had my confirmation from them,

      They say they may visit you, or send you reminders to check if need to have one… but so far I have heard nothing. Without a full warrant and a policeman, they have no right to enter your property.

      I would urge you all to cancel! Starve the beast! 🙂

      • Nick Lawden permalink
        April 26, 2019 1:40 pm

        .. I forgot to add… it is not illegal to have equipment capable of receiving live TV… you just should not watch it… so.. reach behind telly…. pull out aerial… and job’s a good’un!

        If yours is a smart TV like mine, YouTube and Netflix are probably already built-in, so cancelling is not that much of a ‘lifestyle’ change – trust me! 🙂

        Happy cancelling!

  12. April 26, 2019 9:39 am

    I wonder if the BBC CLIMATE CHANGE – THE FACTS title was inspired by this book

    That puts the other side of the FACTS

    I see that Extinction Rebellion have been have been out in numbers in Cardiff (near me)
    At least they had a nice day for it. Good idea to plan it for spring and they were lucky it was one of to few dry days we get in South Wales.
    if they had chosen December they might have had to wrap up a bit more.
    I wish they would wrap up a bit more all year.

    No doubt we are all guilty of conformation bias.
    If the information I search for is information I wish to find. Then I will be pleased and accept the information if it agrees with my views.
    If I accidentally find information that disagrees then I will question the accuracy of the information or the motives and funding.

    As Donald Rumsfeld said “There are no knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know”

    Although I would question some of the Knowns and highlight the often forgotten unknowns.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      April 26, 2019 9:56 am

      Thank you for reminding me that I should buy that book. Just about to start Driverless Cars: On A Road To Nowhere after the author was allowed to put the common sense view in Highways magazine.

      As to the weather….after the hottest Easter since the dawn of time, the last two evenings spent at football matches have been anything but warm. Even lit the fire when I got home last night.

  13. Gerry, England permalink
    April 26, 2019 9:52 am

    When, in recent times, did the BBC ever let the truth get in the way of their global warming propaganda? Got to protect their green pension investments and help sell Teslas.

  14. dennisambler permalink
    April 26, 2019 6:27 pm

    The warmers constantly show how good they are at re-cycling. Penguins under threat was all the the rage in 2006, when the US Center for Biological Diversity, (don’t they love the grand names), asked the U.S. government to add 12 penguin species to the federal list.

    “The group said unusually warm ocean temperatures have diminished the food available for penguins. The size of the Emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, Antarctica, featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “March of the Penguins,” dropped by half from 1952 to 2000, researchers found.

    “These penguin species will march right into extinction unless greenhouse gas pollution is controlled,” said the center’s Kassie Siegel. “It is not too late to save them, but we must seize the available solutions to global warming immediately.”

    When the Polar bear was listed as endangered by the US:
    “This is a victory for the polar bear, and all wildlife threatened by global warming,” Kassie Siegel, a lawyer for the Centre for Biological Diversity, said. “There is still time to save polar bears, but we must reduce greenhouse gas pollution immediately.

    The previous walrus drama in 2010:

    Unless we dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions, the walrus is on a trajectory toward extinction,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Center’s Alaska director.

    Not content with polar bears, penguins and walrus, they always have other species in their sights:

    “Walrus are not the only animals facing depleted numbers or extinction because of climate change. The Arctic is warming at twice the rest of the world on average, and its seas are growing increasingly acidic because of increased concentrations of carbon dioxide. A new report today warned that 17 species – from tiny plankton to the weighty narwhal – were threatened by the disappearing sea ice and rising seas.

    In addition to polar bear – whose plight is widely recognised – and walrus, the report from the Centre for Biological Diversity said several species of whale and seal, and land-based animals such as caribou and fox were facing declines.”

    Maybe WWF will start an “Adopt a Plankton” campaign.

    • dave permalink
      April 27, 2019 8:55 am

      …”Adopt a Plankton”…

      After watching ‘Sponge Bob’ for many years, with its virulent anti-Plankton propaganda, this will be hard for our children to do.

  15. Harry Passfield permalink
    April 26, 2019 8:23 pm

    When Shackleton’s men were stranded on Elephant Island while he made his epic voyage to South Georgia, they lived off penguins and seals, the remains of which they would bury in the snow and ice around the camp (three inverted boats). At one point they were very low on food so dug up the skulls of the penguins, boiled them up and made a passable soup!!!

  16. April 27, 2019 12:56 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

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