Emperor Penguins Marching Toward Peril

Study: Climate change to cause steep population declines by 2100
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 30, 2014 6:58 AM CDT
Study Paints Bleak Picture for Emperor Penguins
In this Dec. 9, 2012 photo released by Thomas Beer, emperor penguins walk across sea ice near Ross Island, Antarctica. The continent's pristine habitat provides a laboratory for scientists studying the effects of climate change.   (AP Photo/Courtesy Thomas Beer)

The iconic Emperor penguin is now marching toward its own demise thanks to climate change, according to the first study to assess the creature's long-term chances. An international team of scientists studying Antarctica's Emperor penguin population is calling for the birds to be reclassified as "endangered" after finding that, if sea ice continues to melt at its current rate, all of the continent's penguin populations will be in decline by 2100, with the total population down 19% from today's numbers; the researchers project two-thirds of the 45 known colonies will drop to less than half their current size. They're calling for the establishment of marine reserves to help protect the penguins.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers say there will at first be an increase in the current total of 600,000 penguins due to a recent increase in sea ice, Phys.org reports—algae grows under the ice, which sustains the krill that the penguins eat. But one expert explains that too much ice elongates the females' march to the sea to obtain food; not enough ice, and waves could fracture colonies come spring. Most of the planet's 18 types of penguins are dropping in population size, reports Reuters, with only king, adelie, and chinstrap thought to be increasing. (Climate change is taking its toll on penguins in Argentina, too.)

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