An Iceberg The Size Of Rome May Have Killed 150,000 Penguins (UPDATE)

But one penguin researcher says they may have just relocated.

02/13/2016 02:43 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2016
Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty Images
An Adelie penguin.

A massive iceberg that became grounded near a colony of penguins in Antarctica may have caused more than 150,000 of the birds to die after leaving them landlocked.

In December 2010, an iceberg measuring more than 1,100 square miles -- the size of the city of Rome -- crossed into the bay near Cape Denison where a massive colony of Adelie penguins lived, according to The Guardian. 

With the arrival of the iceberg, breeding Adelie penguins near the cape must now travel almost 40 miles in search of food. The exhausting trek has caused the colony to diminish from 160,000 penguins to just 10,000, an alarming new study by Antarctic Science found.

Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty Images
Adelie and Chinstrap penguins walk along snowbank on Laurie Island in 1994.

Chris Turney, a climate change professor with the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, has been tracking the penguin decline.

"It's eerily silent now," Turney told the Sydney Morning Herald. "The ones that we saw at Cape Denison were incredibly docile, lethargic, almost unaware of your existence. The ones that are surviving are clearly struggling. They can barely survive themselves, let alone hatch the next generation. We saw lots of dead birds on the ground ... it's just heartbreaking to see."

However, a penguin researcher who was not involved in the study said there is no definitive proof that the penguins have died. They may have just relocated.

"Just because there are a lot fewer birds observed doesn't automatically mean the ones that were there before have perished," Michelle LaRue, who studies penguin populations at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Live Science. "They easily could have moved elsewhere, which would make sense if nearby colonies are thriving."

If it's true that 93 percent of the penguin population is already dead, researchers estimate that in 20 years the rest of the colony will be completely wiped out. But even so, LaRue told The Weather Network the colony accounts for just a small portion of the 3.8 million breeding pairs of Adelie penguins worldwide.

"150,000, even lets [sic] just assume they did all die, that certainly is not apocalyptic," LaRue told the publication.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images
A baby Adelie penguin and mother share a moment at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan on July 26, 2013.

This piece has been updated to include penguin researcher Michelle LaRue's comments that the penguins may have simply relocated.

CORRECTION: This piece previously misidentified the journal that published the study as "Atlantic Science"; it is Antarctic Science. 

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