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World's Largest King Penguin Colony Is Shrinking Mysteriously

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© Anne Dirkse - Getty Images

By Laura Yan, Popular Mechanics

[post_ads]Once upon a time, Ile aux Cochons, an uninhabited island part of an archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, was home to the largest king penguin population around the world, with around two million king penguins scattered across the island. Today, a study shows that the penguin population have declined as much as 88 percent. “The rate of decline is unbelievable,” Henri Weimerskirch, study author and ecologist at the University of La Rochelle in France, told Gizmodo. Researchers found that while there were over 500,000 breeding pairs on the island in 1982, in April 2017, it dwindled to just 59,000 pairs, and researchers aren’t sure what caused it.

To count the penguin population on the island, researchers combined high-resolution satellite images and photos taken from helicopter, making estimates based on square footages of huddled penguins. While other researchers remain skeptical about the counting methodology and the accuracy of the steep decline, this penguin colony is definitely shrinking, while king penguin populations on other islands in the archipelago are staying stable. At the moment, scientists have no idea what is causing the sharp decline.

They have a few theories: perhaps, the feral cats and mice on the island (brought in by traveling humans) have been preying on penguin eggs and chicks. Or perhaps, parasites and diseases are killing off the penguins. As usual, climate change and overfishing could be culprits: king penguins love to feed on lanternfishes, which have been overfished, and could be migrating elsewhere because of warming water.
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While king penguins are not threatened species overall, the strange, steep decline on one island is still worth exploring. “Penguins are ecosystem sentinels that can tell us about how the environment is changing,” said Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington. “We need to be paying more attention to them.”

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Technology - U.S. Daily News: World's Largest King Penguin Colony Is Shrinking Mysteriously
World's Largest King Penguin Colony Is Shrinking Mysteriously
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