It may sound surprising, but not all birds need wings to travel great distances. Although Adélie penguins are the smallest penguin species in Antarctica, they take one of the longest known migratory journeys every year. But why are they forced to travel such long distances?
A long jouney indeed. Image credits: Chris Vees (priorité maison)/Creative Commoms
Pygoscelis adeliae, commonly known as the Adélie penguin, is a species of penguin found along the coast of the Antarctic continent. It was named by French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville, who discovered the species in 1840 and named it after his beloved wife, Adéle.
Only two of the 18 penguin species truly make the Antarctic their home by living and breeding there: the emperor penguin and the Adélie penguin. Although the Adélie penguin is much smaller than its not-so-distant relative, don’t let its size fool you. It’s known to take on seals or large seabirds, and in some cases, even researchers got attacked by these feisty creatures.
The Adélie penguin is accustomed to the extreme environments of Antarctica. Image credits: Christopher.Michel/Creative Commons
Adélie penguins can swim as fast as 15 km/h (9.3 mph) and they are known for their ability to dive into deeper waters than most predators in the surrounding oceans. Their main food source, krills, live under the sea ice, and due to the deep-diving ability of Adélie penguins, they are easier for them to reach. Without sea ice though, krill becomes easily accessible to other predators in Antarctica, which causes a food shortage for Adélie Penguins and they must swim further and longer in order to find food.
A force to be reckoned with! Image credits: Godot13/Creative Commons
As we concluded, Adélie Penguins are one of the few animals that have adapted to the extreme living conditions of Antarctica. Hhowever, they are highly sensitive to the effects of climate change.
In the last 50 years, the Antarctic Peninsula’s yearly mean temperature has increased by over 2℃, making it one of the most rapidly warming regions in the world. This annual temperature increase has caused the melting of sea ice, which penguin populations rely on. The increasing temperatures and the melting sea ice have forced thousands of penguins to migrate to colder areas of Antarctica surrounding the Ross Sea, which has not yet seen a decrease in sea ice.
In some places, sea ice melts completely in the summer. Image credits: Joshua Stevens, NASA, 2011. Public Domain
Affected penguins that inhabit these areas trek around 12,760 kilometers (7,929 miles) every year, following the sun from their breeding colony to their winter grounds in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica and back.
Despite projections based on climate suggesting a future decline, the migration processes of the Adélie penguins have led to an increase in their population. It is estimated that the Adélie Penguin population has 1.4 million more breeding pairs than in the 1990s, around 3.79 million pairs altogether.
Global warming will continue to have an effect on Antarctica. Image credits: GRIDArendal/Creative Commons
Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, contribute to climate change which affects the world as a whole. Research conducted by NASA and by the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute suggests that because of the growth of the ozone hole, global warming will continue to have a significant effect on Antarctica.
The question is whether humanity will be able to reverse the tide of global warming and save the amazing species that live on this planet with us.