DEATH OF ANTARCTIC PENGUINS (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Env and Eco)

News-CRUX-10     1st February 2024        
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Context: A highly lethal form of bird flu has been detected in Antarctic penguins for the first time. The virus, HSN1, was con- firmed in two gentoo penguins that were found dead on Sea Lion Island in the Falkland Islands, a British territory.

Death of Antarctic Penguins

  • Significance of Penguin Deaths: Penguins already face multiple threats such as climate change, pollution, and overfishing.
  • Status: Three Antarctic penguin species are listed as vulnerable or near threatened.
  • Extent of Threat from H5N1 Virus: Before H5N1 arrived in Antarctica, highly pathogenic bird flu viruses had never been seen there.
  • Penguins likely have little immunity to the virus, and its spread in crowded colonies could lead to mass mortalities.
  • Virus Spread: The spread of H5N1 in Antarctic penguin populations is not fully understood.
  • While the virus has not been confirmed in other local penguin species, testing on rockhopper penguins is ongoing.
  • Concerns of Scientists: Scientists are worried about the potential impact of the virus in Antarctica.

oThe region is critical breeding territory for millions of birds and marine mammals, and the virus could have immense consequences if it spreads.

Evidence of Spread and Potential Impact

  • The virus was detected in brown skuas in South Georgia, the first cases in the region.
  • Infections have been confirmed in various bird species and marine mammals, leading to significant losses.
  • Scientists fear similar consequences for Antarctica's seals as the virus spreads.