About 150,000 adélie penguins died after a huge iceberg grounded near their colony in Antarctica, forcing them to make a lengthy trek to find food.
A newly published study by researchers from the University of New South Wales and the West Coast Penguin Trust in New Zealand documents how the iceberg, known as B09B and measuring about 100 sq km (38.6 sq miles), grounded in Commonwealth Bay in east Antarctica in December 2010.
The penguins had to walk more than 60km (37 miles) to find food, impeding their breeding attempts. The population at Cape Denison was measured to be about 160,000 in February 2011 but by December 2013 it had plunged to about 10,000.
“The Cape Denison population could be extirpated within 20 years unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out,” the scientists wrote in the journal Antarctic Science.
During their census in December 2013, the researchers said that “hundreds of abandoned eggs were noted and the ground was littered with the freeze-dried carcasses of previous season’s chicks”.
The researchers said that the study had important implications for the wider east Antarctic if the trend of increasing sea ice continued.