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Giant icebergs, unprecedented ice conditions threaten Antarctic penguin colonies

increased the distance between the breeding colonies and food sources in the open sea. The birds must now walk rather than swim to their colonies. Their average walking speed is roughly 1 to 2 kilometers (.6 to 1.2 miles) per hour. They can swim at an average of 7 to 8 kilometers (4.3 to 4.9 miles) per hour.

The Adelie colony at Cape Crozier is the sixth largest in the world. The Emperor Penguin colony is one of the smallest for that species, at about 1200 pairs, but was the first discovered. Members of explorer Robert Falcon Scott's expedition first visited the colony at the beginning of the 20th century.

A classic story of Antarctic science and adventure, "The Worst Journey in the World," by Apsley Cherry-Garrard includes a description of an attempt by three men of Scott's party to collect the first Emperor penguin eggs from Cape Crozier. Early in the 20th century, the eggs were scientific curiosities because Emperor penguins were incorrectly thought to be a "missing link" between dinosaurs and birds. The researchers survived horrendous blizzards, confined for several days to a shelter they had erected in haste, in order to bring back the eggs.

The Adelie colony at Cape Royds is the longest-studied in Antarctica. Next to it is a hut erected by Ernest Shackleton during his first Antarctic expedition early in the 20th century. The colony has been monitored annually since 1959 by scientists from Landcare Research NZ and, most recently, by Ainley's group.

The colony had been increasing in recent years because sea ice had been dissipating. It is the southernmost Adelie penguin colony in the world, and its existence is now in jeopardy.

Researchers supported by the U.S. Antarctic Program have banded Adelie penguins at Cape Crozier and elsewhere on Ross Island with individual numbers, allowing them to be identified at a later date. The penguins' response to the icebergs likely will provide major new insights into
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Contact: Peter West
pwest@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
26-Dec-2001


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