Archive for the 'adelie penguins' Category

Oct 03 2008


We at Penguins United have been busy for the last month and have allowed much too much time to go by without checking in with you, our faithful readers.

Burn out, I think you call it!

We call it WPS – weary penguin syndrome.

Emperor Penguins on Glacial Ice

We are very tired of being what you call “an indicator species” – like in “a species whose presence, absence, or relative well-being in a given environment is indicative of the health of its ecosystem.”

Not much well-being happening these days for us.

Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, penguins are sounding the alarm for potentially catastrophic changes in the world’s oceans, and the culprit isn’t only climate change, says a University of Washington conservation biologist.

Oil pollution, depletion of fisheries and rampant coastline development that threatens breeding habitat for many penguin species, along with Earth’s warming climate, are leading to rapid population declines among penguins, said Dee Boersma, a University of Washington biology professor and an authority on the flightless birds.

“Penguins are among those species that show us that we are making fundamental changes to our world,” she said. “The fate of all species is to go extinct, but there are some species that go extinct before their time and we are facing that possibility with some penguins.”

How depressing is that?

Here are some facts:

  • Once about 400,000 pairs lived in the Magellanic penguin colony at Punta Tombo in Argentina between the late 1960s and early 1980s; there are just half that today.
  • African penguins decreased from 1.5 million pairs a century ago to just 63,000 pairs in 2005.
  • Galapagos Islands penguins have fallen to around 2,500 birds, about one-quarter what it was when Boersma first studied the population in the 1970s.
  • Adélie and Chinstrap penguins have declined by 50 percent since the mid-1970s.

  • Where Adelie Penguins Live

    Changing climate also appears to be key in the decline of Galapagos penguins, she said. As the atmosphere and ocean get warmer, El Niño Southern Oscillation events, which affect weather patterns worldwide, seem to occur with greater frequency. During those times, ocean currents that carry the small fish that the penguins feed on are pushed farther away from the islands and the birds often starve or are left too weak to breed.

    These problems raise the question of whether humans are making it too difficult for other species to coexist, Boersma said. Penguins in places like Argentina, the Falklands and Africa run increasing risks of being fouled by oil, either from ocean drilling or because of petroleum discharge from passing ships. The birds’ chances of getting oiled are also increasing because in many cases they have to forage much farther than before to find the prey on which they feed.

    Right now Galapagos penguins is the only penguin species covered by the Endangered Species Act. But we all need protection.

    According to the Center for Biological Diversity:

    For instance, each of two recent El Niño years decimated Humboldt penguin populations along the coast of Chile and Peru, calving of an iceberg off Antarctica resulted in reproductive failure for an entire emperor colony, and a major oil spill off the South African coast wiped out many thousands of African penguins.

    Any wonder we are suffering from Weary Penguin Syndrome?

    No responses yet

    Jun 30 2008


    Things are heating up – a penguin joke. James Hansen testified before Congress 20 years after his famous warning about Global Warming. Famous, at least, for penguins and polar bears.

    If I told you only two Congresspeople showed up to hear one of the world’s greatest experts talk about a threat that could end human civilization as you know it would you laugh or cry? Human civilization. Some of us consider that yet another penguin joke.

    After reading Hansen’s testimony, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times posted his comments beneath the following headline: “Are Big Oil and Big Coal Climate Criminals?

    [Hansen] said everything he has been saying for years: unabated warming would erode the ice sheets, flood coastal cities and drive many species into extinction.

    But there was a much discussed recommendation in both his oral presentation and a written statement he prepared beforehand: that the heads of oil and coal companies who knowingly delayed action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions were committing a crime. “These CEO’s, these captains of industry,” he said in the briefing, “in my opinion, if they don’t change their tactics they’re guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.

    Adelie Penguins – Photo: Heidi N. Geisz

    From the penguin perspective, you humans have some odd ideas about crime. You can imprison a man or a woman for stealing money from a grocery store, but you seem to turn away from the larger crimes: destroying the Amazon forest, allowing the glaciers to melt, allowing species after species to disappear.

    You are the smart ones, after all. Fire, the atom, the Space Shuttle, the iPod.

    And now you seem to turn away from the obvious.

    James Hansen terms it the “global cataclysm:”

    He testified:

    Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes. Arctic sea ice is a current example. Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that
    absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice. As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer.

    More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.

    Animal and plant species are already stressed by climate change. Polar and alpine
    species will be pushed off the planet, if warming continues. Other species attempt to migrate, but as some are extinguished their interdependencies can cause ecosystem collapse. Mass extinctions, of more than half the species on the planet, have occurred several times when the Earth warmed as much as expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase. Biodiversity recovered, but it required hundreds of thousands of years.

    Weddell Seal under the ice – Photo: Getty

    A kind lady wrote to us recently kindly suggesting that we use too many words. That humans have a short attention span. That if we wanted to get our point across we needed to be more like television. What, we wondered, would that look like? How about: The End Is Near! Or maybe: “You’re Killing Us All!”

    While we all think about the perfect 30 second spot, how about you think more about what Dr. Hansen has to say:

    The disturbing conclusion, documented in a paper I have written with several of the world’s leading climate experts, is that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million) and it may be less. Carbon dioxide amount is already 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. Stunning corollary: the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.

    Like his very smart carbon tax, Hansen offered some clear ideas for action:

    We must move beyond fossil fuels eventually. Solution of the climate problem requires that we move to carbon-free energy promptly.

    Now I imagine many of you are looking for climate criminal part. Are you ready?

    Hansen continues:

    Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.

    CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

    Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.

    What is the term you humans use? Oh yeah, we penguins are interested parties. Count us among those “countless species” who can lose.

    I guess the question for you how much are a bunch of polar bears or a bunch of penguins worth? And if corporate greed and your need for a carbon economy kills us, are any of you quilty?

    James Hansen calls it a high crime against humanity. Polar bears would call it a high crime against polar bears. And we’d call it a high crime against penguins. All of us would call it a high crime against nature.

    No responses yet

    Jan 18 2008


    If you are reading this, it’s probably because you have been thinking about penguins, or about global warming and climate change, maybe wondering how we are doing, or maybe about your future.

    These are scary and complicated times for all of us.

    Adélie 422 walking – Photo: Geroge F. Mobley

    The news down South is not very good. And for that matter, it’s even worse up North. I’ll talk about that in just a minute. But there’s one thing that really confuses me. Now that I’m surfing the web – interesting choice of words for a penguin – I read a lot of newspaper reports about the climate crisis. And, of course, the comments that readers post. Have you ever taken the time to read those comments?

    So many of you humans are so very angry. You’re angry at the newspaper for printing the reports. You’re angry at your scientists for telling you about rising levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, rising sea levels and melting ice. About disappearing glaciers. Check it out: angry comment after angry comment.

    What’s going on? Is it so very hard to acknowledge what is happening before your very eyes? Here’s a picture of the Boulder Glacier in Glacier National Park in Montana, US in 1932.


    And a photo taken in 2005:


    It’s gone. Do you want to blame the scientists?

    Is it so very hard to understand that the Earth is paying a price for all the coal you burn to keep your cities lit so bright? When did you become so afraid of the dark? Is it so very hard to understand that there is a price to be paid for the SUVs you drive to the malls you shop in? Where is it written in your holy books that each man and woman needs to have a car, two cars, three? That it is too much of an inconvenience to ride together in buses and train and trolleys? That you need second homes and motor boats and private airplanes?

    Anyway here’s a quick update of the latest news. Antarctica, our home, our ice is melting. TV3 in New Zealand reports:

    The ice shelves of Antarctica are collapsing faster than scientists could ever have predicted, loosened by warming climate conditions – warm air and warm water is compromising the existence of the entirety of the Antarctic ice sheet as global temperatures rise.

    Dozens of ice shelves are steadily breaking apart – three major ice shelves have disintegrated in recent times, one of which taking mere days to collapse …

    During the last 15 years, almost 90% of the glaciers observed by scientists in Antarctica have shown significant levels of retreat.

    Adelie penguins – Photo: Frans Lemmens

    Our dear friends, the Adélies, founding members of Penguins United, are in deep trouble. The melting ice is a matter of life and death for the Adélies. A National Geographic headline asks “Antartica’s Adelie Extinct in a Decade?”

    Adélie penguins in Antarctica are in the midst of a major upheaval as climate change causes their icy habitat to warm up, experts say.

    Some populations of the birds are thriving, but most are declining rapidly.

    The penguins rely on winter sea ice as a platform for feeding on ocean krill.

    But they also need the ice to shrink in the summer so they can access their breeding colonies on land.

    The mid-latitudes of the Antarctic Peninsula once provided the perfect habitat for the penguins—but not anymore.

    “That region has experienced the most rapid warming during winter on the planet,” said Bill Fraser, an ecologist with the Polar Oceans Research Group in Sheridan, Montana.

    “The mid-winter temperatures are now around 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit [6 degrees Celsius] higher than they were 50 years ago.”

    Help the Adélies. Save the Ice. Save our Home.

    No responses yet

    Dec 11 2007


    You know you’re in big trouble when they talk about you in Forbes and the UK Guardian and the Telegraph and National Geographic News all in the same day.

    Big big trouble. Why? The World Wildlife Fund issued its report, “Antarctic Penguins and Climate Change.”

    This is what the Forbes headline says: “Penguins in Peril as Climate Warms.” The Chinese news service Xinhua puts it this way: “WWF: Climate warming threatens Antarctica Penguins.”

    Adelie, Emperor, Chinstrap & Gentoo Penguins – UK Telegraph

    According to Forbes:

    four populations of penguins that breed on the Antarctic continent are under escalating pressure. For some, global warming is taking away precious ground on which penguins raise their young. For others, food has become increasingly scarce because of warming in conjunction with overfishing.

    This reminds us a bit of the American writer Mark Twain who read his own obituary in the newspaper.

    You writing about us?

    We’ve talked a lot about the Arctic ice here but today they’re talking about our ice:

    The Antarctic Peninsula is warming five times faster than the average rate of global warming. The vast Southern Ocean has warmed all the way down to a depth of 3,000m.

    Sea ice – ice that forms from sea water – covers 40 percent less area than it did 26 years ago off the West Antarctic Peninsula. This decrease led to reduced numbers of krill, the main source of food for Chinstrap Penguins.

    Macaroni and Chinstrap Penguins – Sylvia Rubli/WWF

    The number of Chinstraps decreased by as much as 30 to 66 percent in some colonies, as less food made it more difficult for the young to survive. It’s the same story for Gentoo Penguins, which are increasingly dependent on the declining krill stocks as overfishing kills off their usual food sources.

    Gentoo Penguin with chicks, South Georgia – Fritz Pölking/WWF

    The Emperor Penguin, the largest and most majestic penguin in the world, has seen some of its colonies halved in size over the past half century. Warmer winter temperatures and stronger winds mean that the penguins had to raise their chicks on increasingly thinner sea ice. For many years, sea ice has broken off early and many eggs and chicks have been blown away before they were ready to survive on their own.

    2 Emperors with chick – Fritz Pölking/WWF

    In the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where warming has been the most dramatic, populations of Adelie Penguins have dropped by 65 percent over the past 25 years. Not only has food become scarcer with the disappearance of sea ice, but the Adelies’ warm-loving cousins the Gentoos and Chinstraps have also invaded the region.

    Warmer temperatures mean that the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which in turn brings more snow. Scientists are worried for the Adelie Penguin, which needs land that is free of snow and ice to raise their young, is likely to lose out to its warm-loving cousins.

    Adelie Penguin – Sylvia Rubli/WWF

    “Having just returned from the Antarctic, I’ve witnessed what is happening to the penguins there,” says Dr. Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist of WWF’s Global Climate Change program. “The warming climate means warmer, wetter air and too much snow at the wrong time of year. Penguins have to wait for snow to melt and they are breeding later – much too late. Add invasive species that are expanding their ranges to diminishing numbers of penguins and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The delegates at the Bali COP have a chance to protect Antarctica’s penguins and many other species, but they must act now.”

    Well many many thanks to Dr. David Ainley and WWF and their terrific photographers and their very informative website, for bringing attention to our plight.

    Gentoos at sunset, Falklands – Kevin Schafer/WWF

    In the days to come we’ll offer our take on the events taking place in Bali. But for today, this one day, it’s time to focus on PENGUINS IN PERIL.


    No responses yet

    Nov 26 2007


    Several human-based environmental organizations have ways of raising money based on adopting animals.

    One organization, Defenders of Wildlife, has a program called “Adopt a Penguin.” This is what they write:

    A variety of species of penguins have been declining due to the effects of global warming. Starvation, habitat loss, and the fact that the penguins’ world is literally breaking up under their feet are all contributing factors to dramatic population loss.


    Adelie Penguins Photo: British Antarctic Survey

    In one instance, a large number of Adelie penguins were literally made prisoners and starved because global warming had unexpectedly altered their habitat. In 2004, Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound was blocked by the mountainous remnant of the world’s largest iceberg. The iceberg cut off supply routes for several research bases on the sound and was so big that it blocked wind and water currents that would normally break up the ice in the sound and make access to the sea much easier for researchers and penguins. As a result, tens of thousands of Adelie penguin chicks and their parents were stranded inland with a 112-mile round trip being the shortest distance to gather food. Experts estimate that the three colonies of Adelie penguins may have declined by up to 70 percent.


    Rockhopper Penguin, The Falklands Photo: Ben Tubby

    The decline of the rockhopper penguin is another example of how warming temperatures are affecting these beloved birds. The number of rockhopper penguins breeding on one island has gone from 1.4 million to only 100,000 in the last 60 years–most likely due to warming waters surrounding the island.


    Emperor Penguins Photo: Serene Chew

    … according to National Geographic News, the population of emperor penguins has been cut in half over the past 50 years … These amazing animals can withstand some of the harshest conditions on Earth, but they cannot continue to sustain themselves without krill–a shrimplike creature that is a staple of the emperor penguin’s diet. The sea ice necessary to the survival of krill larvae is disappearing earlier and taking with it 80 percent of the krill population. The emperor penguins are starving to death because the warming air and water is drastically changing the environment to which they have adapted.

    Where there are obviously good reasons to adopt a penguin. We are in big trouble. Melting ice, starvation, the destruction of our home. So maybe the least you can do is to adopt one of us.

    But, the fact of the matter is. if you have been paying attention to our last posts you should be adopting many many others: polar bears, the scottish puffin, butterflies, baby seals, dolphins, whales … The list never ends.

    We’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately down here at Penguin Central. And we’ve been doing a lot of reading too.

    How many of you have checked out the latest report of the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is their report to policy makers about the climate crisis. Here are a few excerpts:

    Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level …

    Numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones …


    Beached mini-icebergs Longyearbyen Photo: Rob Bell

    Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections, arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century … It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent …

    So what does this all mean. The UK Independent puts it this way:

    Here it is: the future of the world, in 23 pages … [The IPCC] spelled out comprehensively that the Earth could warm by an average of up to 6C during the course of the coming century, and that this would be catastrophic in its impact for human society, most of all the poor in developing countries; but they also offered hope that the problem was solvable, if the governments took rapid and decisive action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing the warming.

    So you can adopt a penguin if you want. You can adopt a baby seal. You can adopt a fern. But that won’t change what’s really going on here. It isn’t us spewing greenhouse gases up into the atmosphere. It isn’t us burning coal and oil. We’re not cutting down the forests of Indonesia and the Amazon.

    How about you adopt a human for a change? How about you adopt your friends and neighbors? How about you save your farmland? How about you save Glacier National Park in Montana? How about you save the Swiss Alps? How about you demand to drive a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon? Better yet, how about you demand energy-efficient buses and trains?

    See these people. Don’t they deserve to be adopted?


    Yutian, China Photo: Peter Parks/AFP – Getty

    God bless these environmental movements. And thanks if you’ve actually adopted one of us. But really isn’t it time to wake up! Look, really look, at the world around you. It’s time for you human to get your act together.


    Polluted reservoir, La Paz Bolivia Photo: Dado Galdieri/AP

    Adopt A Human.
    Save the Earth.
    Save the Ice.
    Save the Penguins.
    Save us All.
    Save Yourselves.
    Adopt A Human.
    Please, Adopt A Human.

    No responses yet

    Aug 22 2007



    Penguin 134 saw the headline and just had to read the story. She’s a big fan of the British newspapers. Especially for some reason I can’t remember a fan of the Independent:

    What can dying penguins tell us about the future of the planet?

    It turns out there are a bunch of excerpts from a book by Meredith Hooper “The Ferocious Summer: Palmer’s penguins and the warnings of Antartica.”

    You’d probably want to read an article called “What can dying people tell us about the future of the planet?”

    Anyway here are some of Meredith Hooper diary entries:

    2 January 2002
    The night before arriving at Palmer, Bill gives me a briefing. Dr Bill Fraser is a seabird ecologist, one of an inner group of US scientists who have dedicated themselves to Antarctic research …

    The news is shocking. The season, Bill says flatly, has gone to hell. Palmer’s Adélie penguins are in crisis, barely holding on. The weather has been relentless, dire. The seabird work is under real pressure. “We are arriving to a catastrophe, walking into a bitter scenario produced by climate change,” he says. “The Adélie penguins don’t have the capacity to survive the drastic changes that are occurring. There’s no doubt. ”

    The real penguin losses in Antarctica are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula, where the greatest warming is occurring …


    Michael Van Woert, 1998 NOAA

    And some penguin-inspired poetry:

    “There’s a revelling in the intense activity of a penguin summer. Its rhythm catches you up. It’s there in all the accounts – the early explorers, scientists, delighted visitors, dedicated penguin observers, everyone engrossed in the privilege of watching, the luck of being there. Becoming in a small way part of it, because they are tolerated. Stop watching, and you miss something. Keep watching and you begin to recognise the stages.


    Adelie penguin & minke whale – Peter Rejcek, NSF

    But this time there is so little noise. So little smell. Such small groups. So few chicks. An almost complete absence of guano, that starburst of pink radiating out from each nest, that signal of occupancy, of chicks at home, of regular feeding, of the need to feed, of rotation of parents with their full bellies coming back from the ocean. Some of the smaller colonies have only one successful nest with one chick, very occasionally two, under the one bird. Seeing the Adélies for myself is shocking. In my head are memories of busy, functioning penguin colonies. The din of living, the pervasive smell of food being crammed in and processed out. Of beaks snapping and clashing, of the haze of dust and feathers rising over massed nests …

    Last time, each colony, each subset, seemed to me like a suburb, most households roughly similar. Now the rookery feels like an urban city in a war zone. Some colonies are reasonably active, some almost non-functioning. But in general the city is severely depleted. There appear to be very few “families,” lots of singles and childless partners.


    Patrick Rowe, NSF

    One leopard seal has been working the area periodically, another full-time. Pickings are easy at Torgersen, where birds have to stack in bottlenecks to come ashore. Beach access has been confined by snow to two narrow locations, and the water churns as a leopard thrashes a penguin out of its skin. Birds grab morsels. If the dead penguin is one of a functioning pair – this season that’s not just a loss, it’s a disaster.

    There’s a small amount of pebble-carrying and nest-tidying, but very little. I see one pair attempting a fumbling copulation: beaks clacking, flippers waving, male attempting to balance on the female’s back. Many birds are sitting in the brooding position. But nothing is happening. What do birds do when the eggs have failed? Does the pair bonding remain? Does alternate feeding continue when there’s no need to relieve each other on the nest? I find just one empty egg on a rock; but no eggshells. I see dead penguins on the ground, bones and sinew, but the carcasses could belong to last year, or the year before. The skuas seem particularly confident. Where have all the penguins gone?”

    No responses yet