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Probably as one of the effects of climate change, an extreme 2019 heatwave killed at least 354 penguins in Argentina. This sad news has been revealed in a new scientific paper titled Unprecedented heat mortality of Magellanic Penguins published in the journal Ornithological Applications. 

The authors of the study, Katie Holt and P. Dee Boersma from the University of Washington, found that on 19th January 2019, temperatures at Punta Tombo, on Argentina’s southern coast, spiked to 44 C (111.2 F), far too hot for the local colony of penguins that have been studied since 1982. Katie Holt said to UW News: “This extreme event fell near the tail end of the breeding season for Magellanic penguins, so it killed a large number of adults, as well as chicks…It’s the first time we’ve recorded a mass mortality event at Punta Tombo connected to extreme temperatures.”

The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is a South American penguin breeding in coastal Patagonia (including Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands). Nearly three-quarters of the penguins that died in this Argentinian site were adults, many of which likely died of dehydration. In the central section of the colony, about 5% of adults died. At least 8 out of 10 of the adults that died were males, but this is because the colony at that site has many more males than females. Research by Natasha J. Gownaris and P. Dee Boersma published in early 2019 showed that adult females are less likely to return to Punta Tombo to breed, possibly because they struggle to find enough food in the open ocean outside the breeding season. The 90 chicks that died possibly perished because they could not regulate their body temperatures properly in the extreme heat.

Tragically, climate change is likely to produce this sort of disaster for many species adapted to colder climates, as we are already seeing happening with penguins and polar bears. This is why nations should now support the Plant Based Treaty to help reverse the climate crisis, and people should become vegan as soon as possible to force the economy to move away from animal agriculture, one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases.