The largest colony of king penguins has almost disappeared, say scientists

© REUTERS / Heinz-Peter BaderДетеныш king penguin in the zoo in ViennaThe largest colony of king penguins has almost disappeared, say scientists© REUTERS / Heinz-Peter BaderПодпишись to daily updates RIA Science

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. The largest colony of king penguins, located on one of the Islands of Crozet, almost completely disappeared, mysteriously decrease of 88% over the past three decades. Write about the environmentalists in the journal Antarctic Science.

«The reason for such a serious reduction in the number of penguins remains a mystery to us. Despite the fact that this process began at least 20 years ago, it is still ongoing. It is very important to send an expedition to study penguins and their nesting sites on the island of cochon,» write Henry Weimerskirch (Henri Weimerskirch) from the University of La Rochelle (France) and his colleagues.

In recent years, ecologists and climatologists are seriously worried what will happen with the penguins and other inhabitants of the polar regions of the Earth where global warming and climate change manifest themselves particularly strongly.
Recent observations show that many rare species of penguins living in New Zealand and on the Antarctic Islands, may disappear by mid-century due to the mass death of birds and impoverishment of food resources, the «shifted» to the North with winds and currents.

Weimerskirch and his colleagues discovered yet another indication that the penguins may disappear in the next few years, watching cochon island in the Crozet archipelago in the territory of which is located, as initially thought by scientists that the largest colony of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus).

It was opened in 1962, when the island was visited by the expedition of the French cartographers. On its territory, as then scientists have calculated, there were about two million birds and about 500 thousand couples of penguins, producing new offspring.

On the Crozet Islands there are no permanent settlements, which further penguin was conducted very sporadically, and the last time biologists have visited the island over 30 years ago, in 1982. Recently need an island cochon flying helicopter expedition, whose participants knew about the existence of «the largest prison» Aptenodytes patagonicus and noticed that now it has a small size.

When they told this to Weimerskirch and his colleagues, French researchers decided to test their suspicion by comparing pictures of cochon island, which received the planes flying over him and the companion in the last half century.
As shown by these measurements, the colony remained virtually unchanged for quite a long time, starting from the 1960s to the mid 1990s. About 25 years ago the situation began to change dramatically – the area of the colony was reduced approximately two times, and the number of pairs of birds has decreased 4-5 times.

The latest pictures of the island of cochon received by Russian polar explorers from the ship «Akademik tryoshnikov» in December 2016, indicate that the total area of the colony has decreased about three times, and the number of birds fell by 88%. Particularly strong, as shown by satellite images from 2012 to 2017, the colony has declined in recent years.

Why this happened is not clear, but scientists speculate that the reduction in area of the colony and the number of birds in the first place is due to the fact that the penguins are beginning to miss food. Fish that feed king penguins, left their hunting grounds in the 1990s due to fluctuations in temperature and shifts of the currents associated with abnormally high activity of the climatic phenomenon El niño.

On the other hand, ecologists do not exclude that the feathered inhabitants of the island of cochon could hit some new disease that killed or adult birds or their offspring. To test this idea you need to go to the Islands of Crozet, which the researchers plan to do in the near future.