Penguin Populations Are Declining Dramatically

adelie penguins

The effects of warming temperatures are catching up with us, but humans don’t feel the bite yet.

According to a recent study, people in U.S. are actually enjoying the all-year round milder weather, even though it’s only a temporary benefit of global warming.

But animal species around the world are starting to feel the negative effects, like the quickly changing habitats of the Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins living on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The 800-mile-long peninsula is warming at five times the rate of the rest of the planet; since the mid-20th century, temperatures have seen an increase on average by 6 to 7 degrees Celsius.

With the warmer weather came the significant loss of sea ice, as the winter period when the ice gets to form is now 90 days shorter than it used to be.

Bill Fraser, a penguin expert and ecologist working at Antarctica’s Palmer Station’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) area, explained that “the advance and retreat of sea ice acts as a sort of engine that drives more Antarctic marine ecosystem processes.”

Fraser, who’s been studying the seabirds since 1974, has observed this phenomenon also alters some aspects of the ecology of the three penguin species.

At this point, the penguins are super-sensitive to even subtle changes in the system, as their lifespans are finely tuned to a fragile balance between having enough sea ice and enough open water.

In recent years, the sea-ice-dependent Adélie penguins that live in the southern area of the Antarctic Peninsula have been affected by the increasing snow and rain. Rainfall, which used to be a rare occurrence, is now drowning the eggs and chicks.

The fact that sea ice decreases also affects the feeding habits of these seabirds. Sea ice is often used as a platform from which to forage, and if there is less ice, the penguins are decoupled from being able to feed effectively.

Krill, the main source of food for the Adélie and chinstrap penguins, are also threatened by the loss of sea. The 2.5-inch-long, shrimp-like crustaceans are also sea-ice-dependent because the ice sheets protect them from harsh winters.

Overfishing combined with environmental pressures could spell trouble for the penguins, said Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Penguin Conservation Campaign.

The three penguin species in that region have seen a dramatic decline in populations – more than 30 percent over the last 30 years.
Image Source: Travel Wild