On Special Assignment

Feb 25, 2013 12:35 PM by Suzanne Philippus - MTN News

Researchers learning more about Antarctic penguins

BOZEMAN - Adelie penguins are Antarctica's cute ambassadors but MSU researchers say they also could be facing a huge threat.

Reporter Suzanne Philippus visited one of the Antarctic colonies and found out just what's happening.

McMurdo Sound features the southern most penguin colony in the world, and they also happen to be the cutest group on the continent.

The birds are curious, cautious, and standing just over two feet tall, the Adelie penguins nest on volcanic rock outcroppings in the last pristine ocean left on earth.

"We've found that a there's a very..um..a..close highly interactive food web, and that they are involved in [it]. David Ainley, PhD , an Antarctic researcher explained.

It's an ecosystem that remains largely in tact from prehistoric times.

"That involves whales and fish. This is the only ocean left on earth where's there's still large fish
and whales in numbers that go back millennia, Ainley told us.

He added that the biggest threat to the penguins, "is the fishery for Antarctic Toothfish, which is sold as Chilean Sea Bass."

Taking a top predator, such as the Toothfish, out of the food chain can affect the entire ecosystem, and that worries Ainley.

"Well, penguins are quite unusual compared to most other birds or mammals, at least the Antarctic penguins, because there's no place where they can hide."

Ainley added that monitoring life here in the Ross Sea is critical.

"They don't live in boroughs like most penguin species, and they don't live amongst the trees. They don't. They do everything in the daylight unlike most mammals, so it's ...relatively easy to learn about the life history of the penguin."

This breeding season was successful for the penguins, however, scientists have discovered in
years past that when life gets tough, the penguins will move out.

It is not illegal to eat Chilean Sea Bass, but Ainley says you should check with the restaurant before ordering to ensure the fish is coming from a sustainable, NOAA compliant, supply source.

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