An island in the middle of the ocean was home to many penguins. Over the centuries, whalers hit the island hard and hunters almost wiped out the island's seals, but the penguins seemed to be doing fine.
That's not the case anymore. An agent
called France-Presse reported that a new study shows the colony has collapsed in the last 30 years, dropping by 85 percent from 2 million animals to just 200,000.
According to the paper, which appears in the journal Antarctic Science, the number of breeding pairs on the island has also fallen from 500,000 in 1988 to 60,000 in 2015. Getting to the extremely remote outpost is difficult, so the researchers estimated penguin numbers using images gathered from helicopter and satellite surveys of the colony conducted between 1962 and 2016.
The researchers found that after reaching their maximum concentration of 2 million penguins between 1982 and 1988, the colony has rapidly shrunk, with vegetation taking over many areas where breeding penguins once stood flipper to flipper. "It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world," lead author Henri Weimerskirch, ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France, tells AFP.
Why the penguins are in decline is mystery. According to the paper, smaller colonies of king penguins on other islands in the archipelago have remained stable. And in general, over the last half century, king penguins, which are not currently classified as endangered, have increased throughout the Southern Ocean as fish stocks and habitats recover from human exploitation. But that is not happening on Cochon.
AFP reports that the decline likely began around 1997, when a major El Niño event temporarily warmed the southern Indian Ocean, displacing the abundant fish and squid the penguins rely on. As a non-migratory species, the king penguins were stuck on their foodless island. Sign this petition ti give the penguins another chance to survive!