Only Two Penguin Chicks Survive in Catastrophic Antarctic Breeding Season
Thousands of Adélie penguin chicks in Terre Adélie, Antarctica died of starvation at the start of 2017 due to unusually thick sea ice that forced their parents to travel an extra 100 kilometers (62 miles) to find food, according to French scientists.
The colony of over 18,000 pairs of Adélie penguins suffered a "catastrophic breeding failure" that left with only two chicks surviving at the beginning of the year.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been supporting the penguin researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research who have been working in the region since 2010.
WWF said in a news release:
"Surviving mostly on a diet of krill, a small shrimp like crustacean, Adélie penguins are generally faring well in East Antarctica, but declining in the Antarctic peninsula region where climate change is well established. However, this significant breeding failure at this particular colony in East Antarctica has been linked to unusually extensive sea ice late in the summer, meaning the adult penguins had to travel further to forage for food for their chicks. As a result the chicks starved."
"Adélie penguins are one of the hardiest and most amazing animals on our planet," Rod Downie, head of Polar Programs at WWF-UK, said. "This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins. It's more like Tarantino Does Happy Feet with dead penguin chicks strewn across a beach in Adélie Land."
The Guardian reported that scientists found thousands of starved chicks and unhatched eggs in the region.
Adélie penguin chick starved to death, January 2017.Y. Ropert-Couder/ CNRS/ IPEV
This is not the first time such an event has occurred. In 2013—just four years ago—the same colony, which numbered 20,196 pairs at the time, failed to produce a single chick.
"Again heavy sea ice, combined with unusually warm weather and rain, followed by a rapid drop in temperature, resulted in many chicks becoming saturated and freezing to death," WWF said.
As the Guardian noted, Antarctica as a whole has experienced a record low amount of summer sea ice but the area around the penguin colony has been an exception.
"The region is impacted by environmental changes that are linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier since 2010," Yan Ropert-Coudert, senior penguin scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research who leads the Adélie penguin program, said.
WWF will demand greater protections of the waters off East Antarctica at an international meeting in Hobart, Australia on Oct. 16 where the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), comprising 25 member states and the EU, will consider a proposal for a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off East Antarctica.
"The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adélie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable," Downie said. "So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off East Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins."
A Marine Protected Area "could prevent further impacts that direct anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism and proposed fisheries, could bring," Ropert-Coudert said.
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Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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