The Adelie Penguins of Cape Royds, Part 2

Spectrum's Glenn Zorpette reports from Antarctica

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This is part of the series:
Antarctica: Life on the Ice

Transcript: The Adelie Penguins of Cape Royds, Part 2

[penguin sounds]

Glenn Zorpette: Earlier this hour, I mentioned that by studying the Adélie penguins—whose biology is completely tied to the sea ice—we can learn a lot about our changing climate. Here’s Jean Pennycook again. She specializes in Adélie penguins.

Jean Pennycook: The remarkable thing about this colony is that it’s the southernmost colony of birds in Antarctica, so there are no colonies of penguins more south, or for that matter, any animals, more south than right here.

Glenn Zorpette: More and more Adélie penguins are leaving where they usually roost and feed, and they’re moving south.

David Ainley: Penguins are moving big time. It’s not just like one person moving to some new condo somewhere, it’s mass—pretty rapid.
Glenn Zorpette: David Ainley is an ecology researcher who’s been studying penguins for 11 seasons.

David Ainley: In the lifetime of our research, changes in numbers of penguins around, and this is the story, this is the message to humans. There’s going to have to be some people moving, big time. Penguins are showing what it’s like.

Glenn Zorpette: There’s a reason why the Adélies are moving south.

David Ainley: The penguins are here because it’s usually very windy, and you get this open water here, called a polynya. As long as it’s windy, the sea ice, the water will freeze, but it’ll keep being shunted north, so it’s this continuous freezing process, so as long as that keeps happening, there’s this open water, so when the spring comes, there won’t be 10 feet of sea ice locked in place here; there will just be a little bit. And if it wasn’t for the wind, there’d be no penguin colony here.

Glenn Zorpette: That’s because the wind makes life easier for the Adélie penguins. The wind ensures open water, which means access to fish and krill. Remember, penguins have to get to the edge of the ice to dive into the water to go feeding.

David Ainley: If they have to walk more than a few kilometers, they start to feel—it starts to put a bit of a pressure on them.

Glenn Zorpette: The wind determines where that water is.
David Ainley: Yeah. It’s all wind. Not a whole lot to do with temperature at least, at this latitude. That’s one thing about climate change that doesn’t register really well either—that it’s not just temperature; it’s changing weather patterns.

Glenn Zorpette: Climate changes in Antarctica over the past few decades have altered the continent’s wind and weather patterns. And that has an impact on sea ice, which is leading to wholesale shifts in the Adélie penguin populations. Jean Pennycook says it’s all connected.

[penguin sounds]

Jean Pennycook: I just hope that people are aware that their actions in the United States, or in the world, do affect what happens down here. Pollution is starting to reach here, and climate change is starting to make an effect. So I want people to be sensitive to their lifestyles, so these animals can be preserved in their habitat.

[penguin sounds]