Using telemetry data and the sea ice satellite record to identify vulnerabilities in critical moult habitat for emperor penguins in West Antarctica

We tracked adult emperor penguins from Rothschild Island, west Antarctic Peninsula in 2015/2016 during a summer with extensive sea ice of long duration, contrasting with past years of reduced sea ice extent associated with the recent, rapid, warming trend across the region. We fitted ARGOS PTT devices to penguins of unknown breeding status. Of 33 penguins tracked, nine returned to the colony, presumably to provision offspring. Their foraging trips lasted 9.6 ± 3.7 days, with maximum distances of 75 ± 45 km from the colony within coastal waters. Also, 18 instruments transmitted until the initiation of the annual moult. Penguins travelled at ~ 2.3 km h−1 before slowing for moult. Post-moult, some devices continued to transmit, with speeds of ~ 0.8 km h−1, plausibly due to ice drift, which is rapid in this region. Penguins remained within the seasonal sea ice throughout, staying within 100 km of land, and generally within 5 to 10 km of features (open water, polynyas, leads, icebergs) that offered potential access to the ocean. Penguins were unlikely to have been constrained by the extensive sea ice habitat in 2015/2016. Similar habitats would also have been available in most years of the satellite record (since 1979); however, the moult locations in 2015/2016 would not have been available in many years, and penguins would have needed to find alternative moult locations during some years. Despite uncertainties, the moult period is a critical time for emperor penguins, particularly as sea ice declines, potentially affecting adult survival.


Publication status:
Authors: Trathan, Philip N. ORCIDORCID record for Philip N. Trathan, Wienecke, Barbara, Fleming, Andrew ORCIDORCID record for Andrew Fleming, Ireland, Louise ORCIDORCID record for Louise Ireland

On this site: Andrew Fleming, Louise Ireland, Philip Trathan
1 May, 2024
Polar Biology / 47
15pp / 533-547
Link to published article: