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Saturday, 12 January, 2002, 04:24 GMT
Antarctic penguins in peril
Adelie penguins, BBC Wild
Floating icebergs are blocking food routes
Tens of thousands of baby penguins could starve to death as their parents are having to walk up to 50 kilometres (30 miles) further than usual to get food.

The normal route to feeding areas is blocked after two giant icebergs broke off the Antarctic ice sheet and are now floating between the Ross Island and the open ocean.

Almost 150,000 breeding pairs of emperor and Adelie penguins are finding it increasingly difficult to feed their chicks.

Two huge ice blocks - one the size of Jamaica - broke off the vast Ross Ice Shelf, south of New Zealand, in March 2000.

They have now floated between Ross Island - where the penguins breed - and Franklin Island, blocking short routes to the open sea.

Energy used up

Penguins come ashore to breed, then take it in turns to go hunting for food like fish, crustaceans and squid.

They walk at a pace of less than two kilometres an hour and they are now having to travel up to 50 kilometres further than usual.

Adelie penguins, BBC Wild
Pygoscelis adeliae: Among the most abundant of the Antarctic penguins
This means when they return to their young they have little food left to regurgitate for them as they have used so much energy making the round trip.

Antarctica New Zealand, the government-funded organsation which has been monitoring the situation, says that up to 20,000 chicks could die as the ice blocks are almost completely impassable.

Scientists say that some animals have already abandoned the Ross Island colonies to try to breed elsewhere.

See also:

06 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Rapid Antarctic warming puzzle
10 May 01 | Sci/Tech
'Heatwave' stresses penguins
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