11 November 2022

#AntarcticLog: Keeping tabs on baby penguins 

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#AntarcticLog is a series of comics by Karen Romano Young. You can find the originals here.

I first heard of Stéphanie Jenouvrier and her WHOI colleagues’ work assessing emperor penguins a few years ago, when I was working on my book about Antarctica and climate change. Their work had allowed them to connect projected global temperature rise with its impact on emperor penguins, making the big birds a “sentinel species” for environmental change. 

Say you’re trying to evaluate stressed out baby chicks without stressing them or their parents out further.  One way is to reduce their human contact.  It turns out chicks don’t give a chirp about robots in their midst — even when the robot is smack in the middle of a huddle of wintering penguins.  

What ECHO found when it tuned in to penguin chicks numbering about 300 a year added data to the ten year old Single Penguin Observation and Tracking Observatory (known as SPOT), fueling a study that predicted emperor penguins could be all but gone by 2100 under the worst-case scenario of worldwide temperature rise. 

How could being endangered be good news for penguins? Because this designation is meant to stem further damage to their environment — and, as any sentinel can tell you, being alert to harm is a good defense.  If emperor penguins benefit, so may other life forms in their environment. 

Karen Romano Young is a writer, artist, deep-sea diver, and polar explorer. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram.