Dangers to the Survival of Antarctic Penguins

People like penguins. The recent success of the film “March of the Penguins” clearly shows this love. Who would have thought that a French nature documentary would be a smash hit at cinema box offices? Yet “March of the Penguins” has proven to be the second most successful documentary in history. The film showed the incredible long march of the Emperor penguins to their breeding grounds and followed their mating season. The cinema goerswho flocked in droves to see “March of the Penguins” might be shocked to know that Antarctic penguins are under threat.

There are four species of Antarctic penguin, including the Emperor. The others are the Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie penguins. The threats are a shortage of nesting sites and food and are due to Climate Change. The World Wildlife Fund (W.W.F.) warns that rising temperatures are melting the sea ice that penguins need for their nesting grounds.

Simultaneously, rising temperatures and over fishing have meant less Krill, the tiny crustaceans that are part, or all of the penguin’s food. The Emperor is the penguin species most seriously affected, but there have been dramatic reductions in the numbers all four Antarctic penguin species.

Temperatures are rising rapidly in Antarctica, especially in the Antarctic Peninsula where they rose 2.5 degrees in the last fifty years, five times more than the World average. The Southern ocean has warmed down to 3,000 metres. Sea ice is forming later in the year and receding earlier and covering a much smaller area than formerly.

This is an important breeding area for penguins. Krill and fish that live around the sea ice may have declined by up to 80% since the 1970’s. These conditions not only affect the penguin’s survival, but that of all Antarctic animals and birds.

The largest of all penguins is the Emperor. Some Emperor penguin colonies have halved in the past fifty years. Emperors only have one egg and are forced to raise their solitary chicks on ever thinner sea ice because of warmer winters and stronger winds. Sea ice melts earlier now and means that many chicks are blown away and cannot survive.

Adelie penguin populations have dropped by 65% in 25 years in the Antarctic Peninsula. This is due to warmer temperatures and food shortages but also, ironically, to the Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins taking advantage of higher temperatures to take over Adelie territories.

Food shortages are also affecting the Chinstraps.The Gentoo also have a food problem, as fish decline they are becoming more dependent on krill as a food source, in turn affecting the other penguin species.

All Antarctic penguins need cold temperatures and ice, to a greater or lesser degree, to survive. Their icy home is being affected by Climate change, which is a reality, and it is caused by humankind. Antarctica is a treasure, not a resource; it needs protecting, not exploiting, and it belongs to the World not to any one country. World politicians must put aside their vested, petty, short term, short-sighted and parochial interests, stop fighting one another, and act in unison to do the things that need doing to save the world from disaster. Antarctica’s health is a signal of Earth’s health.