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Magellanic penguin chicks getting wiped out by freaky weather

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Bad weather conditions in Argentina are putting thousands of baby Magellanic penguins in danger of death. Researchers conducting a 28-year study found that frequent bouts of very hot weather conditions and rainy weather conditions are putting around 50 percent of the Magellanic chicks in dire straits.

Magellanic penguins belong to a penguin species called Spheniscus magellanicus. These penguins are often found in the coasts of South American countries such as Chile, Brazil and Argentina. These penguins are also closely related to Galapagos and Humbolt penguins and were named after the reknowned Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. These penguins are classified as a threatened species due to the numerous deaths caused by oil spills in the vicinity of their breeding grounds. However, juveniles of the species are also highly vulnerable to wet weather conditions.

"Penguin [chicks] don't do well when they get wet," says University of Washington researcher Dee Boersma. Boersma and co-athor Giner A. Rebstock had published the findings of their study in the online journal PLOS ONE.

"Climate change that increases the frequency and intensity of storms results in more reproductive failure of Magellanic penguins, a pattern likely to apply to many species breeding in the region," said the study. "Climate variability has already lowered reproductive success of Magellanic penguins and is likely undermining the resilience of many other species."

Magellanic penguin juveniles have yet to develop the waterproof coats that can be seen in adults of the species. Due to their undeveloped coats, the Magellanic penguin chicks that get wet during rainstorms can suffer from hypothermia. Sadly, this condition can be fatal for the chicks. Due to the increasing number of strong storms in the area, the future looks dire for the Magellanic penguin population of Argentina. 

"We're going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season as climatologists predict," says Rebstock. 

Aside from shifting weather patterns, the Magellanic penguin populations in Argentina also face a different type of danger - starvation. Due to the unnatural melting of sea ice in the area, the penguins need to swim much further to hunt for food. Boersma states that these days, the penguins need to travel up to 40 miles more than they used to, in order to get the food they need for survival.

The researchers are now proposing the creation of a marine preserve to ensure the future survival of the Magellanic penguin.

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