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13 April 2017

BAS Study Reveals Widespread Decimation of Gentoo Penguin Colonies

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A new study from the British Antarctic Survey international research team has revealed how the Gentoo penguin has come close to extinction several times over the last 7,000 years.

Five thousand pairs of penguins populate Ardley Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula, and the research has revealed the colony has been repeatedly decimated.

It’s been discovered that the nearby Deception Island’s volcano is to blame for the decimating events, after the research team measured the chemistry of sediment on the island, enabling them to estimate penguin population numbers. It’s reported that the Gentoo penguin population has been almost wiped-out by volcanic eruptions at least three times over the past 7,000 years.

Lead author of the research at the British Antarctic Survey Dr Steve Roberts says:

“On at least three occasions during the past 7,000 years, the penguin population was similar in magnitude to today, but was almost completely wiped out locally after each of three large volcanic eruptions. It took, on average, between 400 and 800 years for it to re-establish itself sustainably.”

The volcano has a significantly larger deadly impact than originally thought, with the results being unexpected; due to the climate conditions being favourable for the Gentoo penguins, the research team expected to only discover minor fluctuations caused by changes in sea ice and climate to the population’s history.

Penguin ecologist, Dr Claire Waluda from the BAS comments:

“Changes in penguin populations on the Antarctic Peninsula have been linked to climate variability and sea-ice changes, but the potentially devastating long-term impact of volcanic activity has not previously been considered.”

“This study reveals the severe impact volcanic eruptions can have on penguins, and just how difficult it can be for a colony to fully recover.  An eruption can bury penguin chicks in abrasive and toxic ash, and whilst the adults can swim away, the chicks may be too young to survive in the freezing waters. Suitable nesting sites can also be buried, and may remain uninhabitable for hundreds of years.”

Despite the devastation to the population in the past, the species remains strong with 5,000 breeding pairs.


Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.