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Young penguins dying due to lack of food

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WASHINGTON – Young penguins in the Antarctic may be dying because they are having a tougher time finding food, as melting sea ice cuts back on the tiny fish they eat, US researchers suggested on Monday.

Only about 10 percent of baby penguins tagged by researchers are coming back in two to four years to breed, down from 40-50 percent in the 1970s, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Chinstrap penguins, known for their characteristic head markings that resemble a cap with a black line just under the neck, are the second largest group in the area after the macaroni penguins, and are at particular risk because their population is restricted to one area, the South Shetland Islands.

“It is a dramatic change,” lead researcher Wayne Trivelpiece, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division, told AFP.

“There are still two to three million chinstrap pairs in this region but there were seven to eight million two decades ago,” he said.

“There is some concern now. We need to follow these animals and track them.”

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The 30-year study included chinstrap and Adelie penguins in the West Antarctic and tracked the abundance of their main food source, krill, which are the small shrimp-like crustacean mainly eaten by whales, seals and penguins.

Trivelpiece was a co-author on a study published in 1992 that suggested penguin populations were surging and subsiding according to changes in sea ice — with the chinstrap doing better in warm years and the Adelie thriving in cold years.

Chinstrap penguins eat and make their nests away from the snow and ice and so are considered ice-avoiding animals, unlike their Adelie counterparts who feed in icy habitats and are seen as more vulnerable when there is less ice.

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However, Trivelpiece and his co-authors now believe that krill are the real culprit for the disappearing penguin populations, and the damage affects both types of penguins.

Krill needs ice to survive, and as climate change causes more polar sea ice to melt, the tiny sea creatures cannot breed or feast on phytoplankton in the ice and their numbers fall, taking away an important source of nourishment for penguins.

“Under a scenario of global warming and increasing temperature we had prophesized that Adelies and ice-loving animals like Adelies should decline while chinstraps and ice-avoiding animals should increase,” Trivelpiece said.

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But shortly after the team’s paper was published in the early 90s, the data began to change.

“From that point shortly thereafter onward, we lost those large fluxes and both species started behaving the same way and both started declining dramatically,” he said.

“By the time we had enough data to realize what was going on with the youngsters, we realized that the big difference was between the early years when there was a lot of krill around, and the later years when there wasn’t.”

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Over the past three decades, krill biomass has declined 38 to 81 percent, said the study.

“If warming continues, winter sea-ice may disappear from much of this region and exacerbate krill and penguin declines,” it said.

The main driver of the decline in krill is climate change, but resurgent numbers of whales — on the rise after cuts in hunting — could be increasing the number of predators that eat krill as well, Trivelpiece said.

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A large commercial fishery that is using the krill for aquaculture feeds could also be cutting back on the natural numbers, the study noted.

While the penguins are far from the verge of extinction, the researchers have urged the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to assess their status and possibly bump them higher on Red List of vulnerable species.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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Scientists a step closer to saving northern white rhino from extinction

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Veterinarians have successfully harvested eggs from the last two surviving northern white rhinos, taking them one step closer to bringing the species back from the brink of extinction, scientists said in Kenya on Friday.

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An estimated 92% of cancers caused by HPV could be prevented through vaccination, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday, adding that boosting immunization coverage was a key priority.

Human papillomavirus was responsible for an estimated yearly average of 34,800 cancer cases between 2012 and 2016, according to a new study published by the CDC, meaning that more than 32,100 cases could have been avoided annually.

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Photographs snapped by a shoebox-sized probe that explored the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu have offered new clues about its composition, insights that will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system.

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