Penguins in Antarctica are facing mass extinction due to bird flu. Jane Rumble, head of the Polar Regions Department of the British Foreign Office, said this in an interview with The Telegraph newspaper. According to her, the virus is brought to Antarctica by migratory birds and tourists.
This is a consequence of the bird flu epidemic in South America, which has been going on for almost a year. The first cases of the disease were recorded in October 2022. Since that moment, more than 500 thousand wild birds of various species and about 20 thousand mammals have died in Chile and Peru alone, according to the report of the international influenza research network OFFLU.
Rumble, citing experts, suggests that a major outbreak of influenza in animals in Antarctica can be expected in the coming weeks, when the seasonal migration of migratory birds to the continent from South America begins.
“When this happens, the consequences can be catastrophic,” Rumble said. “And we’re not talking ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ It’s impossible to prevent the spread of the virus because penguins live in large colonies.”
Another possible source of transmission of infection is tourists coming to Antarctica on cruise ships. The continent’s tourist season will also begin in a few weeks, when spring arrives in the Southern Hemisphere. As Jane Rumble reported, safety measures for tourists this season will be tightened. According to the new protocols, their clothes will be thoroughly cleaned and their shoes will be disinfected before disembarking. They will be advised not to approach animals and birds. In the case of a “worst case scenario,” disembarking from ships will be completely prohibited.
The flow of tourists to Antarctica has been growing significantly in recent years. If in the 2015-2016 season it was visited by about 38.5 thousand people, then in the coming season more than 115 thousand guests are expected. Bird flu is also dangerous for marine mammals, such as seals and sea lions, and for humans.