Adélie penguins are top-level Antarctic predators that eat mainly Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Australian Antarctic Division scientists are studying the amount of krill needed by penguins each year to feed themselves and their chicks. Natural changes in the Antarctic environment can cause each year to be different, so AAD scientists are monitoring the penguins over many years. Environmental variations can affect the distribution of krill in certain years and this in turn can affect the penguins.

A long term monitoring program studying Adélie penguins has been run by Australian scientists at Béchervaise Island (67°35’S, 62°48’E), East Antarctica, since 1990. Similar programs are carried out by other nations working at other locations around Antarctica. These monitoring programs are run as part of the international CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP).

One major aim of CCAMLR is to ensure that the human harvest of krill does not adversely affect any element of the Southern Ocean (Antarctic) Ecosystem. As Adélie penguins are large consumers of krill, we need to determine how the human harvest of krill will affect them. Our research will help answer the following questions:

  • Does the feeding range of the penguins overlap with the krill fishery in time and space?
  • What are the penguins’ normal levels of breeding success and food consumption?
  • How much natural variation in diet and breeding success exists from year to year? (long-term monitoring)
  • What factors are responsible for these natural variations?
  • How much krill can be fished without affecting the animals and birds that depend on it?

The information we gain on the Adélie penguins is used in the management of the krill fishery, and this in turn enables us to help protect the penguins from potential overfishing of their major food source.