US Adds Emperor Penguins to Threatened Species List

Designation is a 'call to action,' says director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2022 9:46 PM CDT
Emperor Penguins Added to Threatened List
Crowds of emperor penguins on the ice in Antarctica on Dec. 21, 2005.   (Zhang Zongtang/Xinhua via AP, file)

Emperor penguins, the species seen in March of the Penguins, are marching toward extinction due to habitat loss caused by climate change, scientists warn. The birds, the biggest species of penguin, were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on Tuesday, the New York Times reports. The designation means the species, which spends much of its time on Antarctic sea ice, is likely to become endangered in the near future. "The listing of the emperor penguin serves as an alarm bell but also a call to action," Martha Williams, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. She called the listing a reflection of the "growing extinction crisis."

"Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world," Williams said. The species' range doesn't include any US territory so it's not clear what steps the government will take to protect its habitat, though conservationists hope the listing means federal officials will have to ensure the carbon emissions of government projects don't affect warming in the region, the Washington Post reports. The listing will also encourage international cooperation for conservation strategies, per Reuters.

The current population of emperor penguins appears to be holding steady at somewhere between 625,000 and 650,000, according to Fish and Wildlife, but conservationists warn that the population will shrink to less than 1% of that by the end of the century if emissions aren't reduced. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the government to protect the penguins in 2011. Recent studies "helped to make this decision really clear," said Shaye Wolf, the center's climate science director, per the Post. "That the penguin is endangered by climate change and needs all the protection it can get." (In 2016, thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned when sea ice broke up at the species' second-largest breeding colony.)

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