Number of king penguins on the remote Île aux Cochons has fallen from 2m to 200,000, warn scientists
Agence France-Presse in Paris
Mon 30 Jul 2018 21.50 BSTLast modified on Tue 31 Jul 2018 02.35 BST
The planet’s largest colony of king penguins has declined by nearly 90% in three decades, researchers have warned.
The last time scientists set foot on France’s remote Île aux Cochons – roughly half way between the tip of Africa and Antarctica – the island was blanketed by 2m of the penguins, which stand about a metre tall.
But recent satellite images and photos taken from helicopters show the population has collapsed, with barely 200,000 remaining, according to a study published in Antarctic Science.
Why the colony on Île aux Cochons has been so decimated remains a mystery.
“It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world,” said lead author Henri Weimerskirch, an ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France, who first set eyes on the colony in 1982.
may play a role. In 1997, a particularly strong El Niño weather event warmed the southern Indian Ocean, temporarily pushing the fish and squid on which king penguins depend south, beyond their foraging range.
“This resulted in population decline and poor breeding success for all the king penguin colonies in the region,” Weimerskirch said.