For the past six years, an iceberg the size of Rome has blocked the access of Adélie penguins to the sea in Antarctica. To find food, they must walk a detour of nearly 40 miles to the coast. The impact on the colony has been devastating: More than 150,000 penguins have died. The approximately 1,800-square-mile iceberg struck a glacier and became stuck in Commonwealth Bay back in 2010, essentially land-locking 160,000 penguins. Before then, the colony was thriving, thanks to strong winds that blew ice from the shore, making it easy to hunt for fish. The number of Adélie penguins at Cape Denison has been recorded for more than 100 years.
Back in the early 1910s, researchers on explorer Sir Douglas Mawson’s expedition complained about the noise made by more than 100,000 penguins. The colony’s dwindling population was observed during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition three years ago. The expedition team described the disturbing news, “It’s eerily silent now. The ones that are surviving are clearly struggling. They can barely survive themselves, let alone hatch the next generation. We saw lots of dead birds on the ground … it’s just heartbreaking to see.” Adélie penguins live all along the Antarctica coast. They were discovered during an 1840 French Antarctic expedition, and named for the wife of its leader, Jules Dumont d’Urville. During breeding season, their colonies can include thousands of penguins. But like polar bears in the Arctic, penguins in Antarctica are fighting an uphill battle to survive due to climate change. As the ice melts, they become more difficult to find.