Study: Extensive Sea Ice Creates Hardship for Penguins

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Adelie penguin at eggs. Bellingshausen Station, Antarctic. Author Akulovz, source Wikimedia
Adelie penguin at eggs. Bellingshausen Station, Antarctic. Author Akulovz, source Wikimedia

Turns out Polar Bears are not the only animals which do just fine in low sea ice conditions.

Foraging behavior links sea ice to breeding success in Antarctic penguins

Yuuki Y. Watanabe, Kentaro Ito, Nobuo Kokubun and Akinori Takahashi

Science Advances  24 Jun 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 26, eaba4828
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba4828 

Population trends and breeding success variability of Adélie penguins, a bioindicator of Antarctic environments, have been attributed to changing sea-ice extents; however, causative mechanisms remain unclear. By electronically tagging 175 penguins in four seasons with contrasting sea-ice conditions, we show that ice-free environments enhance, not deteriorate, foraging efficiencies and breeding success. In an ice-free season, penguins traveled by swimming rather than walking, leading to larger foraging areas, shorter trip durations, and lower energy expenditure than three ice-covered seasons. Freed from the need to find cracks for breathing, dive durations decreased, and more krill were captured per unit dive time, which may also be associated with phytoplankton blooms and increased krill density in the sunlit ice-free water. Consequently, adult body mass, chick growth rates, and breeding success increased. Our findings explain the regional population trends and demonstrate a key link among sea ice, foraging behavior, and reproductive success in this iconic species.

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Who could have predicted that extensive sea ice conditions which make it harder to get to food would make life difficult for penguin populations?

Update (EW): h/t Martin C, Murray Grainger – Changed the top picture from Emperor Penguins to Adelie Penguins.

46 thoughts on “Study: Extensive Sea Ice Creates Hardship for Penguins

  1. Penguins should move from Antarctica to the Arctic where the ice is disappearing at an alarming rate.
    There they will grow fat and happy because NOT ONLY THE ICE IS DISSAPEARING BUT THE POLAR BEARS ALSO.

      • What if a male and female Polar Bear wound up somehow floating to Antartica on some flotsam, was completely natural and wound up getting established there? I know…the odds are low. Probably wouldn’t be healthy for the Penguins. But there are six different species of seal that live in Antarctic waters: Ross, Weddell, crabeater, leopard, fur and elephant seals. Fur seals are the smallest, with adult females weighing only 150kg, while male elephant seals can weigh 4,000kg. The elephant seals might put up a good fight with a Polar Bear. They would probably do fine in Antartica but might be confused a little with these Penguins.

        • What if a male and female Polar Bear wound up somehow floating to Antarctica on some flotsam, was completely natural and wound up getting established there?

          It’d be a pretty bad case of inbreeding…..

        • The thing with really excellent sarcasm is that it is subtle, so they can never be quite sure. You want to keep your target audience slightly off balance.

    • Minor item to mention on the picture vs. the penguins in the study – the study talks about Adelie Penguins, but the picture is of Emperor penguins . . .

  2. “which may also be associated with phytoplankton blooms and increased krill density in the sunlit ice-free water”

    These guys are off the page! Great for them, its about time a little reasonable comment entered the science of the poles. Great find thanks.



  4. So Global cooling is a pain in the ass for everyone then. Indeed who would have thought?

  5. So now the climate models will be adjusted to ensure than more CO2 leads to more sea ice?

  6. I bet, the climate clowns will found some fake disaster to happen due to those nasty healthy penguins (and their growing population) in order to fulfil their narrative.

    Something like :

    “It’s worse than we thought : CAGW will cause more penguins to die in the 2 next decades, new study say.”

    • Actually, I think there was a claim a little while ago that more penguins = more penguin poop = more ice melts. Can’t remember where I saw it though, probably a BBC propaganda piece.

  7. we could dress the scientist to look like a penguin and have them assess the hazards of sea ice relative to orcas

    • This sounds like a dark matter tanker ship spill that happened around Neptune.

      Now we need a robot from the year 3000 that is 40% Titanium, 40% scrap metal, 40% nickel, 40% Dolomite, 40% Iron, etc crash land near the penguins and have to rest it’s language matrix.

      • That was a hilarious Futurama episode — actually making fun of enviro-kooks. The dark-matter ship had 1000 layers of hull, and someone lamented “If only it had 1001 layers!”

  8. From the study:
    “Climate models predict a rapid reduction in the Antarctic sea-ice extents over the 21st century (32), despite the opposite long-term trend currently being observed.”

    Boom! Japanese scientists… dropping those red pills lol!

    What a great worthwhile bit of research.

    • With the ice melting, wouldn’t you expect a ‘slippery slope’? Maybe they can slide to the water, instead of having to walk… /sarc off

  9. If you go to the NSIDC web page:

    and click on “Antarctic” then select a year and click on the annual curve near its winter maximum in September-October, you get a pop-up map showing ice coverage coloured by percentage of ice. Even at the winter maximum, there is plenty of pale blue 80-90% ice (i.e. 10-20% open water) along the coast. I don’t see the penguins having an issue unless we get into serious global cooling.

    They survived the Pleistocene glacial periods without going extinct, so we can assume that these earnest researchers have seriously underestimated the ability of penguin colonies to move to be close to where the open water is.

    Since the article doesn’t mention climate change, it’s fair to also assume that they are just biologists doing their job. Or perhaps they embarked on a project to show how “disappearing” Antarctic ice was going to be the death knell for penguins; found that their results did not support the message of doom, and had the integrity to report their work without adjustment to fit the narrative.

  10. The Madagascar Penguins said it best when confronted by endless snow and ice:

    “Well THIS sucks…”

    • So cute! Could they be raised in a temperate climate, or would you have to get Galapagos penguins?

      • not sure if we have adelie but we do have penguins in aussie zoos
        Fairy penguins live on granite island near Victorharbour in Sth Aus
        went there once person with us was asking wheres the penguins?
        my response
        cant you SMELL them already…
        cute but pongy buggers

        theyre also on phillip island nothers? ofVictorian coast

  11. Regarding Antarctic polies – Sir Terry Pratchett had a story:
    “Supposing you’d watched the slow accretion of snow over thousands of years as it was compressed and pushed over the deep rock until the glacier calved its icebergs into the sea, and you watched an iceberg drift out through the chilly waters, and you got to know its cargo of happy polar bears and seals as they looked forward to a brave new life in the other hemisphere where they say the ice floes are lined with crunchy penguins, and then wham! Tragedy loomed in the shape of thousands of tons of unaccountably floating iron and an exciting soundtrack … “

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