Bird flu suspected in at least one penguin death in Antarctica

The case raises concerns about the impacts of H5N1 in the region

Biologists suspect a deadly strain of bird flu has killed at least one king penguin, raising concerns about the virus’ impact on penguin populations in Antarctica. If confirmed, it would be the first known penguin death due to the H5N1 virus, which has devastated both wild and domesticated birds around the world.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research reported the suspected case in a king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on South Georgia Island. A gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua is also believed to have died there from H5N1.

Previously, H5N1 was confirmed in the death of a gentoo penguin on the Falkland Islands, and more than 20 chicks either died or showed symptoms. The virus has also resulted in the deaths of seals, gulls and other birds.

A December report warned that H5N1 could have “immense” impacts on Antarctic wildlife, including endangered emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), because of dense colonies that could allow the virus to spread.

Read more from the Guardian.

Header Image: A trio of king penguins stand on South Georgia Island. Biologists recently documented the first death of a king penguin due to bird flu on the island. Credit: Sastognuti