Why It Issues: Penguins are already below strain.
The acquainted black-and-white birds are dealing with quite a few threats, together with local weather change, air pollution and industrial fishing. Three Antarctic penguin species — emperor penguins, southern rockhopper penguins and macaroni penguins — are listed as weak or close to threatened.
Earlier than H5N1 arrived within the Antarctic area final fall, extremely pathogenic chicken flu viruses had by no means been documented within the space earlier than. That signifies that the penguins are more likely to have little present immunity. And since they breed in giant, crowded colonies, as soon as one penguin is contaminated, the virus may unfold quickly, inflicting mass mortalities. (Because the virus unfold by means of South America final yr, Chile reported the deaths of hundreds of Humboldt penguins.)
The extent of the virus’s unfold in Antarctic penguin populations stays unclear, and the king penguin instances haven’t but been confirmed.
“We have now no conclusive proof that king penguin populations in South Georgia have been impacted by the virus,” Laura Willis, the chief government of the federal government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, mentioned in an electronic mail. “We’re monitoring the scenario throughout the islands and apply a precautionary method, which incorporates closing some websites to permit additional investigations to happen.”
Background: Scientists have been frightened in regards to the unfold of the virus in Antarctica.
The virus, which first emerged in 2020, has taken an unprecedented toll on wild birds and mammals. After the virus was detected on the tip of South America final yr, OFFLU, a world community of flu specialists, warned that the pathogen may unfold to Antarctica subsequent.
The Antarctic area offers crucial breeding territory for greater than 100 million birds in addition to seals, sea lions and different marine mammals. If the virus arrived within the area, its affect on these animals “could possibly be immense,” OFFLU mentioned in a press release final August.
Simply two months later, the virus was detected in brown skuas in South Georgia, the primary instances within the area. Since then, infections have been confirmed in quite a few different chicken species, in addition to in elephant and fur seals. These marine mammals additionally breed in giant colonies, and so they suffered main losses because the virus unfold by means of South America, the place tens of hundreds of seals and sea lions had been reported useless. Scientists fear that the identical destiny might befall Antarctica’s seals because the virus spreads.
Infections haven’t but been reported on the Antarctic mainland, though specialists have mentioned that the virus might already be spreading there undetected.