According to penguin experts, penguins are showing the hidden hazards of burning coal & mother fossil fuels by the way they march. The survival-of-the-fittest game is changed at the bottom of the world, & one particular species of Antarctic penguins is modeling a poignant lesson for humanity: adapt or die…. & make it quick. Penguins are being turned into a sentinel species of the Anthropocene by the Southern Ocean.
Six species of Antarctica’s waddling aquabats are far from extinction, but some are abandoning nesting sites where Chics have been hatching for thousands of years to find a better ground, while colonies of those that refuse to move have collapsed. Craig Cary, a microbial ecologist, collected penguin guano to save Antarctic colonies from bird flu that might reach the Antarctic during the 2022-2023 season.
Preparation for the arrival of bird flu will be helped by the first- ever survey of penguin guano in Antarctica & limit damage on ecosystems already under stress from climate change. It’s known that the penguins gorge mainly on Antarctic krill, a shrimp- like crustacean that thrives on the kind of phytoplankton found under the sea. Ice of the Antarctic Sea has swung up & down, but recently scientists have seen a steep downwards swing.
Scientists are watching a real-time lesson in evolution & adaptation among penguins by using satellites, camera traps, citizen science, & AI computing. It is observed that Adelie & chinstrap penguins remain stuck in their ancient ways, while Gentoo penguins are ranging further south, & their numbers are exploding as they show willingness to chase new prey or abandon a nest to increase the odds of long- term survival. Big climate change winners in the Antarctic are Gentoo penguins, who are perfectly happy to take advantage of a warming Antarctic.
It’s a sad state for Adelie & chinstrap penguins, as their populations have dwindled in many areas, with their numbers declining as much as 80% in some areas. Bird flu is migrating south, & scientists predict it will arrive on the frozen continent by 2024, carried by migratory birds like skuas or terns. One of Antarctica’s top avian predators, skuas, are already bad news for penguins. Conditions are ripe for a virus to rip through the densely-packed colonies of Penguins, as they are in the habit of pooping near their nests, & walking through poo while going to feed.
The arrival of migratory birds coincides with the largest gathering of penguins when they ‘re breeding, raising the young & fledging. The risks of avian flu are increased with the arrival of migratory birds during the breeding season of penguins, as it will devastate their colonies. Microbial ecologist Craig Cary hopes to initiate a New Zealand- led international effort in the Ross Sea area to monitor all the other colonies to protect them from avian influenza.