Original Paper

Polar Biology

, Volume 35, Issue 12, pp 1879-1888

First online:

First direct, site-wide penguin survey at Deception Island, Antarctica, suggests significant declines in breeding chinstrap penguins

  • Ron NaveenAffiliated withOceanites, Inc.
  • , Heather J. LynchAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University Email author 
  • , Steven ForrestAffiliated withOceanites, Inc.
  • , Thomas MuellerAffiliated withBiodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F)
  • , Michael PolitoAffiliated withDepartment of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington

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Deception Island (62°57′S, 60°38′W) is one of the most frequently visited locations in Antarctica, prompting speculation that tourism may have a negative impact on the island’s breeding chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica). Discussions regarding appropriate management of Deception Island and its largest penguin colony at Baily Head have thus far operated in the absence of concrete information regarding the current size of the penguin population at Deception Island or long-term changes in abundance. In the first ever field census of individual penguin nests at Deception Island (December 2–14, 2011), we find 79,849 breeding pairs of chinstrap penguins, including 50,408 breeding pairs at Baily Head and 19,177 breeding pairs at Vapour Col. Our field census, combined with a simulation designed to capture uncertainty in an earlier population estimate by Shuford and Spear (Br Antarct Surv Bull 81:19–30, 1988), suggests a significant (>50 %) decline in the abundance of chinstraps breeding at Baily Head since 1986/1987. A comparative analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery for the 2002/2003 and the 2009/2010 seasons suggests a 39 % (95th percentile CI = 6–71 %) decline (from 85,473 ± 23,352 to 52,372 ± 14,309 breeding pairs) over that 7-year period and provides independent confirmation of population decline in the abundance of breeding chinstrap penguins at Baily Head. The decline in chinstrap penguins at Baily Head is consistent with declines in this species throughout the region, including sites that receive little or no tourism; as a consequence of regional environmental changes that currently represent the dominant influence on penguin dynamics, we cannot ascribe any direct link between chinstrap declines and tourism from this study.


Antarctic Peninsula Chinstrap penguin Baily Head Vapour Col Deception Island Remote sensing Tourism