March 21, 2017 at 4:05 pm
What do catastrophic floods in Peru have to do with tawaki from Jackson Head?
Torrential rainfall in the Andes has wreaked havoc in Peru, killing 72 people and rendering thousands homeless. While many media outlets were quick to pin this catastrophe to the weather phenomenon El Niño, it’s actually not quite that. No yet, anyhow.
We witnessed the devastating effects El Niño had on tawaki from Jackson Head a mere two years ago. Many chicks died of starvation while their mothers desperately tried to find enough food on long, far-ranging foraging trips. In the end the breeding season turned out to be a pretty bad one with only a quarter of the chicks surviving until fledging. Then, last season, a stoat invasion befell the tawaki population pushing the breeding success down to close to zero.
If we are indeed on the verge of another El Nino, the penguins could be facing a third bad season in a row. So, when confronted with the terrible news from Peru, a visit to NOAA the world’s authority with regards to El Niño was in order. The first sentence of the current El Niño report is a bit of a relief “El Niño neutral conditions continued during February”. But…
…the Peruvian catastrophe shows all the hallmarks of an El Niño with much higher ocean temperatures than normal. What keeps it from qualifying as El Niño is that these warmer temperatures are offset by cooler waters further west along the equator. Some scientists have therefore dubbed the situation a ‘coastal El Niño’. And not only that. Further down the NOAA report it reads that after the March-May period “there are increasing odds for El Niño toward the second half of 2017 (50-55% chance)”.
If the severity of the ‘coastal El Niño’ at play in Peru now is an indication for what might happen towards the end of this year, the Jackson Head tawaki have to brace themselves for another tough season.