Penguin Apocalypse

Turney

Photo by: Annette Turney/Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-14

In Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, tens of thousands of penguins are going hungry. They have been cut off from their food supply by an iceberg the size of a small country.

The bay used to have gaps in the ice where the penguins could dive into the ocean to feed. Then the iceberg came. Wedged into the bay, the mass of ice cooled the surrounding water.  Then the winds that sweep down from the Antarctic highlands froze that water, sealing the gap between the iceberg and the bay edge. The penguins of Cape Denison now have to walk an extra 13 miles – an impossible length to waddle – to reach the open water and find food.

Already, a great number of them have died, as well as their eggs and chicks. According to a 2013-14 study, “hundreds of abandoned eggs were noted, and the ground was littered with the freeze-dried carcasses of the previous season’s chicks.”

The remaining 5,500 penguins aren’t doing well either. Many of them aren’t even trying to hatch their eggs. Researchers aren’t sure whether the birds have found cracks in the ice at which to feed, or if they make the journey to the shore, but it seems the penguins are unable to move to new colonies. There is no way to rescue them: carving holes in the ice would only create death traps that would soon freeze over.

Icebergs have blocked bays in the past, but as climate change intensifies it will happen more and more. Icebergs like this one will collect all around Antarctica, distancing penguin colonies from their food source, the ocean. Many of them will die of starvation. The orphaned chicks will die of starvation or cold. The unborn chicks will freeze in their shells.

 

dalai_lamapenguin

May all beings have food.

May all beings have hospitable environments.

May all beings be free of suffering.

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