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Mass die-off of Antarctic penguin chicks alarms researchers

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images/file 2016

Large amounts of sea ice forced Adelie penguins to travel farther for food last summer.

Associated Press 

BERLIN — Almost the entire cohort of chicks from an Adelie penguin colony in the eastern Antarctic was wiped out by starvation last summer in what scientists say is only the second such incident in over 40 years.

Researchers said over the weekend that the mass die-off occurred because unusually large amounts of sea ice forced penguin parents to travel farther in search of food for their young. By the time they returned, only two out of thousands of chicks had survived.

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Sea ice extent in the polar regions varies each year, but climate change has made the fluctuation more extreme.

The environmental group WWF, which supported the research, urged governments meeting in Hobart, Australia, this week to approve a new marine protection area off East Antarctica. Rod Downie, head of polar programs for the group’s British branch, said the impact of losing thousands of chicks was dramatic for an otherwise hardy species such as Adelie penguins.