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New study tracks emperor penguin sea ice habits

Sea ice critical for rests during long foraging treks

These are emperor penguins near the sea.
Credit: Photo credit: Katsufumi Sato (Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo)

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Climate-related shifts in ice around Antarctica have already been implicated in the disappearance of at least emperor penguin colony, but researchers have not been sure exactly how sea ice figures in to their life cycle.

In a new study, researchers show how the birds use sea ice to rest during long foraging periods. The life cycle of the emperor penguins takes place in an exquisite balance with the rhythms of ice formation. Courtship, egg laying and incubation occur during winter, followed by hatching, brooding and crèche formation during spring and early summer. Both parents tend the chicks until they fledge, generally in late spring and early summer (November and December), when the ice breaks up into floes that drift with the wind and currents.

Unlike other species, like Adelie penguins, emperor penguins spent much more time diving for food, and only used about 30 percent of their time at sea to take short breaks to rest on sea ice. The birds did not travel for long distances on the ice, or use it for other activities. The study also suggests that these short rest periods on sea ice may help the penguins avoid predators such as leopard seals. Continue reading

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