The industrial revolution marked an increase in environmental pollutants like mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants. Notably, these substances are now reaching even the most remote and isolated parts of the planet. Being lipophilic, they bioaccumulate in the fat cells of high-trophic predators such as penguins, allowing us to readily quantify these creatures for pollutant exposure.
Gentoo penguins serve as unique biomonitors due to their relatively sedentary nature compared to flying birds and their limited migratory range during the non-breeding season. With a geographical range extending from the Falkland Islands at 51 degrees South Latitude to 66 degrees South Latitude in Antarctica, these penguins offer a significant opportunity to study the spread and bioaccumulation of pollutants.
Our current research focuses on comparing the contaminant loads in Gentoo penguins from the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Our objective is to understand the differences in exposure levels and bioaccumulation between birds residing near industrialized regions and those in remote, isolated areas of Antarctica. Penguins, therefore, serve as an excellent proxy for understanding contamination levels in the Southern Ocean.