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Cape Denison: 150,000 Penguins Die In Antarctica After Iceberg Grounding

First Posted: Feb 16, 2016 02:49 PM EST

Scientists found that about 150,000 penguins died after a giant iceberg grounded near their colony in Antarctica, where the catastrophic event has forced them to take a long journey to find food and perhaps a new settlement, according to a study. The B09B iceberg, which is about 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles), grounded in Commonwealth Bay in East Antarctica in December 2010.

The team noted that they Adelie penguin population at the bay's Cape Denison was about 160,000 in February 2011, however, the population was reduced to 10,000 in December 2013. The researchers believe that the Cape Denison population could be wiped out in 20 years "unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out."

The grounding of the iceberg meant that the penguins were forced to walk over 60 kilometres (37 miles) in order to find food, which obstructed their breeding attempts. While conducting a census in Dec. 2013, the researchers found that "hundreds of abandoned eggs were noted, and the ground was littered with the freeze-dried carcasses of previous season's chicks."

"The ones that we saw at Cape Denison were incredibly docile, lethargic, almost unaware of your existence. The ones that are surviving are clearly struggling," Chris Turney, who led the 2013 expedition, said in a news release. "They can barely survive themselves, let alone hatch the next generation. We saw lots of dead birds on the ground...it's just heartbreaking to see."

The team noted that sea ice is increasing around Antarctica, while ice sheets and glaciers are melting in the Arctic due to climate change.

The findings of this study were published in Antarctic Science.

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