Extreme Heatwave Kills Large Number of Magellanic Penguins in Argentina



A new study revealed that an unprecedented extreme heatwave in 2019 was responsible for the death of a large population of Magellanic penguins in Argentina. Scientists have linked climate change may have been responsible for the event.

Unprecedented Extreme Heatwave 

Magellanic penguins

(Photo : Daniel Feldman via Getty Images)

The Magellanic penguin ((Spheniscus magellanicus) was named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who first discovered the penguins during his global expeditions in 1520.

Majority of the Magellanic penguins are found in the Falkland Islands and some parts of South America. One of the largest breeding grounds of these penguins is in Argentina.

Researchers have found that temperatures increased by up to 44°C (111.2°F) along the southern coast of Punta Tombo in Chubut Province, Argentina, on January 19, 2019, as per a new study published in the journal Ornithological Applications.

The study said it was the highest temperature ever recorded in Punta Tombo since the study’s co-author P. Dee Boersma started studying this population of Magellanic penguins in 1982.

Following the study, scientists from the University of Washington surveyed the penguin population in Punta Tombo and discovered that 354 adult penguins have died during the extreme heatwave.

According to the study’s lead author Katie Holt, it was the first time they have recorded an extreme heatwave-related mass fatality at Punta Tombo.

The extreme heatwave occurred near the end of a breeding season of Magellanic penguins, leading to the deaths of not only adult penguins but also their chicks.

The study revealed that 75% of the dead penguins are adults and a conducted postmortem analysis show that cause of death was dehydration. The risk posed by climate change does not only affect the Magellanic penguin population in Argentina, but also in other parts of the world as well.

The effects of climate change such as the rising ocean temperatures acidification and changing wind patterns may be contributing to the struggle of penguins to find food, as per Washington Post. Other threats to Magellanic Penguins are excessive commercial fishing, oil pollution, and plastics in the oceans.  

Also read: Penguin Genome Shows How They Adapt to Climate Change


Climate Change Responsible for Penguin Deaths in Other Regions

In a separate study, the British Antarctic Survey stated scientists have conducted a new study and concluded that climate change is a risk to the potential extinction of emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) in their published research in the journal Global Change Biology on August 3, 2021.

According to lead author, Stephanie Jenouvrier, and the other authors of this study, “Species extinction risk is accelerating due to anthropogenic climate change, making it urgent to protect vulnerable species through legal frameworks in order to facilitate conservation actions that help mitigate risk.”

The researchers of the study assessed climate change and focused on the emperor penguins, which form their colonies over the Antarctic Sea ice. The study stated a projection that the ongoing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will continue to melt the ice in the future.

Nevertheless, the studies of Holt and Jenouvrier, along with their respective authors, both highlight the threats posed by climate change, such as global warming, to the population of penguins not only in a certain region of the globe but also in other places that were once a haven for penguins.

Related article: Global Warming Impact: Climate Change Elicited Different Response Across Ice Age Vertebrate Species

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