The devastating effects of climate change-induced heatwaves are highlighted by the mass die-off of Magellanic Penguins in 2019.
Researchers at the University of Washington saw one of the biggest breeding colonies suffer the devastating consequences of a 2019 heatwave in Argentina.
On January 19th, 2019, temperatures peaked at 44C/111.2F in Punta Tombo, on Argentina’s southern coast. This led to the catastrophic loss of 354 penguins, with most (264) being adults who it seems died from dehydration, as shown in post mortems conducted on the birds.
Sadly, many of the dead birds were found dead in “heat relief” postures en route from the breeding colony to the ocean, where they could have gotten a drink and cooled off.
According to University of Washington doctoral student Katie Holt:
“This extreme event fell near the tail end of the breeding season for Magellanic penguins, so it killed a large number of adults, as well as chicks. It’s the first time we’ve recorded a mass mortality event at Punta Tombo connected to extreme temperatures.”
“Any mass die-off like this is a concern. But what is most concerning about heat-death mortality is that it has the potential to kill a lot of adults. The population viability of long-lived seabirds — like Magellanic penguins — relies on long lifespans. Adult Magellanic penguins can live more than 30 years, so they typically have many opportunities to successfully raise chicks. If we’re losing large numbers of adults from a single event like this, that’s a major concern.”