Penguins depend on sea ice for survival, the same ice that is rapidly changing as global temperatures tick upwards. By the end of this century, the emperor penguin population is projected to dramatically decline if trends continue.
Antarctica’s emperor penguin population is currently estimated at 600,000. If researchers are correct nearly 1/5th of them may be gone by 2100.
The international science community is pushing for emperor penguins to be listed as an endangered species. Protection under the endangered species act would force the creation of marine reserves in Antarctica and force laws that would protect animals.
Researchers say that emperor penguins are fully deserved of endangered status do to irrefutable climate changes impacting their food supply and reproduction ability.
The threat to the penguin population in Antarctica was announced as a result of a 50 year study by the French Polar Institute.
Penguins rely on sea ice for breeding and raising offspring. Changes in sea ice threaten the existence of multiple species in the region. The concentration of the sea ice is what’s important. Too thick and penguins struggle to hunt. Too thin and major penguin food sources are diminished.
Emperor penguins feast on krill, which is a shrimp-like animal that thrives in the sea ice of Antarctica.
Climate change impacts penguins despite the species remarkable ability to adapt breeding grounds. Overcoming lack of food though is something no species will survive.
Hal Caswell, one of the authors of the study had a grim projection, “The (penguin) population is declining. Unless something changes to stop that, the population will go into extinction.”
Penguins breed on the sea ice where males huddle together around eggs, keeping them warm in minus 50 degree temperatures. As the ice melts, scientists are unclear in penguins will continue to adapt and relocate to higher ice shelves. Despite rising global temperatures, sea ice in Antartica is actually expanding in the current climate. Researchers determined that the decline in penguin population might not be visible until 2050.
The iconic animals that grow to four feet long haven’t received as much attention as polar bears, but according to researchers, we should be just as worried. Climate change in Antartica is greatly impacted by human factors; fishing practices and carbon dioxide emissions being two major contributors.
As is the case with most environmental issues, change ultimately is up to us.