Archive for the 'Chinstrap 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?

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    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.


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