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Tracking penguins in the ‘Land of the Adélies’

 

WWF is supporting polar scientists working with the French Antarctic Programme (IPEV/CNRS) who are monitoring Adélie penguins at Dumont D’Urville Station in Terre Adélie, East Antarctica. I blogged about this vital work in the ‘Land of the Adélies’ previously. The aim is to identify ‘biological hotspots’ in the Southern Ocean which are important feeding grounds for the penguins, and to predict how they might adapt to climate change.

Penguin under the snow © Timothee Poupart CNRS Penguin under the snow © Timothee Poupart CNRS

It also helps to inform an international proposal that has been submitted to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), for a large scale Marine Protected Area (MPA) to safeguard the waters off East Antarctica.

Now, with three years of tracking data already completed, Dr Yan Ropert-Coudert, the principal scientific investigator, wanted to share some important trends that are emerging:

‘This picture shows us the tracks recorded by tiny GPS tracing devices mounted on female Adélie penguins over the last three years during their incubation stage in mid-November to mid-December (i.e. when the birds take it in turns to sit on their eggs whilst the other goes out to sea to feed).

Penguin tracking chartPenguin tracking chart

Dramatic breeding failure

‘The 2013/2014 austral summer was catastrophic for this colony in terms of breeding success, with none of the chicks from the 30, 000 adult pairs surviving.

Two factors contributed towards this dramatic breeding failure:

  • unusually high sea-ice extent at the beginning of the season
  • several days of rain – a very rare occurrence in what is normally a dry part of the Earth (Antarctica is officially classified as a polar desert).

At this age, the chicks’ downy feathers are not waterproof, so they died of hypothermia.

Penguins trying to shelter from the rain © Timothee Poupart CNRS Penguins trying to shelter from the rain © Timothee Poupart CNRS

The high extent of sea-ice is reflected in the 2013 tracks that you see in orange on the map. The adult penguins had to travel much further – as far as 453 km – to get to the open sea to forage. In comparison, the birds that we tracked the previous season (2012 – in green on the map) were able to feed closer to the shore and traveled just 335 km, and those from the current season (2014  – in blue on the map) traveled 380 km.

The work of Yan and his intrepid colleagues who voyage to the ends of the earth every year is making an important contribution towards our conservation efforts in the Antarctic, as well as to our scientific understanding of penguins and their habitat. We will continue this year to urge CCAMLR to meet its commitment to a network of MPA’s around the Southern Ocean, and to help protect the home of the Adélie penguins in East Antarctica.

How can you help?

We’re working hard to secure a future for these amazing animals, but we need your help in order to do this. Making a donation will help us ensure a future for the Adelie penguin and other species.

More about the French Antarctic Programme

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