Penguins in Antarctica happier with reduced sea ice conditions caused by global warming, study finds

Representative image

(Xinhua / Liu Shiping / IANS)

Adelie penguins in Antarctica show a strong preference for reduced sea ice conditions caused by global warming, according to a new study. This observed behavior makes this waterfowl a rare and unexpected winner of climate change.

According to satellite observations, Antarctica has witnessed a gradual increase in its sea ice coverage in the last 30 years, with the average annual extent of sea ice (frozen water) reaching a record in 2014. However, a sharp decrease has been observed in subsequent years, and the general trend is expected. go down as climate change intensifies. While this means bad news when it comes to the planet, a species could benefit and prosper immensely because of this phenomenon.

Adelie penguins, the most common penguin species in Antarctica, witness an outbreak in the population during years of low sea ice. In fact, it is the growth of sea ice that hits them hard, causing massive reproductive failures among these creatures.

While these correlations were established years ago, scientists did not know what caused them, until now. Through a new study, researchers from the Japan National Polar Research Institute (NIPR) have found an answer, and it turns out to be quite simple.

The research team electronically tagged 175 penguins with GPS devices, accelerometers, and video cameras, to observe their walking, swimming, resting, and hunting behavior, and track their travels across four seasons with different sea ice conditions.

Representative image

(NASA / Maria-Jose Vinas)

Later, they discovered that penguins were really happy with the low sea ice conditions, essentially because less frozen water allowed them to swim instead of walk, making life easier for them.

“It turns out that these penguins are happier with less sea ice,” said lead researcher Yuuki Watanabe at NIPR. “This may seem counterintuitive, but the underlying mechanism is quite simple.”

Penguins move four times faster while swimming compared to walking. However, amid heavy sea ice, they are forced to walk and sometimes jog (lie face down and slide on the ice) for long distances to find access to the water, where they hunt. These exhausting trips also force them to take long breaks on the road.

In contrast, when there is less sea ice, penguins can simply dive where they want and even enter the water directly from their nests. This not only saves time and energy, but also extends your power range and reduces competition while hunting.

Another indirect benefit for these polar predators is the fact that less sea ice allows more sunlight to enter the water, resulting in a larger bloom of the plankton that krill feed on, the penguins’ main prey.

In general, Adelie penguins really thrive amid the low level of sea ice, as this environment presents the most favorable and ironically coldest conditions for birds to eat, move, and reproduce.

However, it is interesting to note that these observations are only limited to penguins that live in the main “continental” part of Antarctica. Just the opposite is true for penguins living on the thin Antarctic peninsula, and researchers continue to dig deep to discover why.

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