U of M study: 'March of Penguins' may be wrong, birds adapting


New research from the University of Minnesota says the future of emperor penguins is perhaps not as bleak as previously believed.

Researchers have long thought that emperor penguins, the only penguins to live on sea ice, were philopatric, or returned to the same location to nest year after year.

This habit, along with climate change that's melting sea ice, has led researchers to say there has been a decline in the number of penguins in the Pointe Géologie colony in Antarctica. That's the group that was famously featured in the documentary, "March of the Penguins."

But new research from the U of M suggests the penguins have moved around, in effect adapting to changing environments – which seems to contradict an assertion in the critically acclaimed movie that the penguins are gravely endangered by climate change.

Researchers in this new study tracked a "climate-driven march" by examining the penguins' poop stains using high-resolution satellite imagery.

“Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviors we thought we understood about emperor penguins,” said University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering researcher and the study's lead author Michelle LaRue said, according to the release.

Before seeing these satellite images, researchers thought Pointe Géologie was isolated and penguins never moved to other breeding grounds, but U of M researchers found six instances in three years in which emperor penguins didn't return to the same place to nest – meaning that it's possible those penguins didn't die, but just moved away from Pointe Géologie, the release says.

Researchers also found plenty of colonies that were within easy traveling distance for the penguins and a newly discovered colony on the Antarctic Peninsula that may represent the relocation of penguins, the release says.

“If we assume that these birds come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn’t make any sense. These birds didn’t just appear out of thin air — they had to have come from somewhere else. This suggests that emperor penguins move among colonies," LaRue said in the release.

LaRue adds that this discovery is important to conserve the species. The U of M's study will be published in an upcoming issue of Ecography.

Other studies have also shown how penguins are adapting to climate change. The British Antarctic Survey found that emperor penguins were climbing 100-foot ice walls to find stable ice shelves to breed as sea ice retreats, Nature World News reports.

Next Up

Mike Zimmer

‘Fire Zimmer’ trending after Vikings beat Panthers

The Vikings won the game but their coach is still on the hot seat.

Screen Shot 2021-10-17 at 8.24.33 PM

NCHC condemns Huskies fans for throwing projectiles after controversial no-call

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference says that it will be reviewing both the no-call and the aftermath.

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins saves the day again to get Vikings to .500

Cousins' overtime toss to K.J. Osborn earned a 34-28 victory.

Nurses on strike

Nurses start 3-day strike at Allina WestHealth in Plymouth

A "last attempt" at negotiations failed to produce an agreement last Wednesday.

boating minnesota lake

Minnesota has experienced its deadliest boating season since 2005

Minnesota has seen 17 boating-related deaths so far this year.

Drew Doughty

Kirill Kaprizov makes Kings’ Doughty eat his words

The Kings defenseman isn't a fan of the Wild star's new deal.

Quinn Olson / UMD Hockey

Watch: UMD's Olson goes between-the-legs to set up highlight goal

Another Saturday. Another highlight for a Minnesota college hockey team.

Gopher Hockey

Watch: No-call lifts Gophers to OT victory over St. Cloud State

A blatant hook marred a top-four battle in St. Cloud.