A giant iceberg in the waters off Antarctica known as B09B is responsible for the deaths of nearly 150,000 penguins in the Commonwealth Bay.
The deaths occurred after the massive floating mountain of ice crashed onto the coast of the southernmost continent. This stranded the distinctive birds 40 miles away from their source of food, starving the animals.
The iceberg, almost as large as the state of Rhode Island, had floated through the waters surrounding Antarctica for 20 years. In 2010, the massive object made landfall, striking a glacier that formed along the Antarctic coast. This cut the flightless birds off from easy access to the water, necessitating a perilous 40-mile hunt for food. Normal travel for food is around 5 miles.
Biologists studying the Cape Denison colony of penguins report finding the abandoned eggs along the routes utilized by the Adelie penguins, as well as the frozen remains of chicks.
"[D]uring the 2013 visit, the Cape Denison penguin colony was uncharacteristically silent ... the normally noisy, aggressive penguins were quiet, and incubating birds hardly acknowledged our intrustion into their realm," researchers state in a press release.
Of the 150,000 penguins that once lived around Commonwealth Bay, biologists believe just 10,000 are still alive today. A century ago, the population of penguins in the region numbered around 100,000. Within 20 years, researchers believe this population of animals is likely to disappear. Penguins are in danger in all the areas in which they naturally appear because of hunting by humans, encroachment on their habitats and environmental changes.
By contrast, a second population of penguins located 5 miles away from Commonwealth Bay has thrived in the years since the iceberg made contact with the southernmost continent. Biologists are looking at this event as an opportunity to study how such events can affect populations of the water fowl.
Adelie penguins are common in Antarctica, but do not live naturally anywhere else in the world. The species was first discovered in 1840 by French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville.
The analysis of the penguins and their population loss was published in the journal Antarctic Science.