WWF is supporting scientists working in the polar region who are studying Adélie penguins in East Antarctica. The object of the exercise is to identify the areas of the Southern Ocean which act as important feeding grounds for the species. The researchers also hope to predict how the species might adapt to climate change. The results of the study will be used as evidence to support the case for a large scale Marine Protected Area of the coast of East Antarctica.
Data suggests some important trends
So far the study has collected three years of tracking data and Dr. Yan Ropert-Coudert who heads up the research project says there are some important trends that are emerging. Female Adélie penguins were tagged with GPS tracking devices whilst they were incubating their eggs. The following results were found. During the 2013/2014 austral summer, the breeding effort suffered from catastrophic failure with none of the chicks surviving from as many as 30,000 breeding pairs. There were a couple of factors responsible:
- During the beginning of the breeding season, the sea ice extent was unusually high.
- There were multiple days of rain which is extremely rare in what is one of the driest places on Earth (Antarctica is officially classified as a polar desert)
When penguins first hatch, their feathers are not yet waterproof so the unusual rainfall led them to die from hypothermia. The high extent of the sea ice meant that adult penguins were forced to travel much further to forage in the open sea. In some cases the distance was as much as 453 km. In previous seasons penguins were able to feed closer to shore and travelled just 335 km.
WWF making an important contribution
WWF is making an important contribution to conservation efforts whilst Dr. Ropert-Coudert and his team are enabling us to gain a better understanding of penguins and their habitat. WWF will continue to advocate for a network of Marine Protected Areas around the Southern Ocean to ensure that Adélie penguins in East Antarctica have their homes protected.
How can you help?
You can help WWF secure the future for this wonderful species. All you need to do is make a small donation to WWF’s ‘Ends of the Earth’ campaign and this will help the organisation ensure these amazing wild places are protected for both the Adelie penguin and other species that live there.