Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Climate Change ‘A Serious Threat’ to King Penguins, Study Warns

Climate
Climate Change ‘A Serious Threat’ to King Penguins, Study Warns

In a new study, published in Nature Communications, scientists reveal how feeding and breeding of king penguins has varied between 1992 and 2010, and how climate change could put a dent in their numbers.

King penguin fitted with an Argos transmitter. Photo credit: C.A. Bost

Swimming Further and Diving Deeper

The study focused on the Crozet archipelago in the southwest Indian Ocean, around 3,000km southeast of South Africa. With more than 600,000 breeding pairs, the islands are home to the world’s largest king penguin population.

King penguins breed from mid-December to mid-March. When foraging for food to feed their young, the adults swim south towards the fish-laden waters of the polar front, which is typically 300-500km away. This region, shown as a dotted blue line in the image below, is where the cold ocean surrounding Antarctica meets warmer waters further north.

Distribution of king penguin populations around the Southern Ocean – the larger the green circle, the bigger the population. Coloured lines indicate the approximate position of the polar front (blue, dotted), sub-Antarctic front (red, dotted), and Antarctic Divergence (pale blue). Photo credit: Bost et al

The position of the front varies from year-to-year with natural fluctuations in the southern Indian and Atlantic oceans. These are, in turn, affected by climate phenomena such as El Niño.

Using satellite transmitters attached to selected breeding penguins, the study tracked their movements between 1992 and 2010. In some years, the researchers found the penguins had to swim further and dive deeper to find food. These years coincided with warmer waters in the southern Indian or Atlantic Ocean, which shifted the polar front southwards.

An increase in ocean temperatures of 1C in the southwest Indian Ocean, for example, pushes the front 130km further south.

An instrumented king penguin ready to go out to sea. Photo credit: M. H. Burle

In 1997, natural fluctuations conspired to bring “abnormally” warm water to the Crozet islands, pushing the polar front further than scientists had seen before. The satellite tracking showed the penguins had to swim almost twice as far to find food, and dive around 30 percent deeper.

The extra distance took its toll on the survival of the penguin population, the researchers say. The following year, the number of breeding pairs had fallen by 34 percent, and took five years to recover to pre-1997 numbers.

While the study looked at natural fluctuations, the findings support previous work that suggests king penguin populations could be negatively affected by climate change. The polar front is projected to shift southwards as ocean surface temperatures warm, increasing the distance that breeding penguins will have to swim to reach food. Climate change, therefore, represents “a serious threat for penguins and other diving predators of the Southern Ocean”, the new study concludes.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Stunning Drone Footage Shows Greenland Literally Melting Away

It’s Official: Jon and Tracey Stewart Convert 12-Acre Farm to Animal Sanctuary

Remarkable Team of Scientists Run/Bike From North and South Poles to Paris Demanding Climate Action

SeaWorld Orca Too ‘Depressed’ to Nurse Her Calf + 7 Other Reasons Killer Whales Should Not Be Captive

Reintroducing wolves is on the ballot in Colorado. Gunner Ries / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Tara Lohan

Maybe we can blame COVID-19 for making it hard to hit the streets and gather signatures to get initiatives on state ballots. But this year there are markedly fewer environmental issues up for vote than in 2018.

While the number of initiatives may be down, there's no less at stake. Voters will still have to make decisions about wildlife, renewable energy, oil companies and future elections.

Here's the rundown of what's happening where.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A health care worker holds a test for patients suspected of being infected with coronavirus at the Center Health Vicoso Jardim on April 30, 2020 in Niteroi, Brazil. Luis Alvarenga / Getty Images

By Alexander Freund

The World Health Organization, along with its global partners in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, has announced that it will provide 120 million rapid-diagnostic antigen tests to people in lower- and middle-income countries over the next six months. The tests represent a "massive increase" in testing worldwide, according to the Global Fund, a partnership that works to end epidemics.

Read More Show Less

Trending

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on Sept. 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. Scott Olson / Getty Images

The first presidential debate seemed like it would end without a mention of the climate crisis when moderator Chris Wallace brought it up at the end of the night for a segment that lasted roughly 10 minutes.

Read More Show Less
Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The wildfires that roared through Eastern Washington in September had a devastating impact on an extremely endangered species of rabbit.

Read More Show Less
A protestor in NYC holds up a sign that reads, "November Is Coming" on June 14, 2020 in reference to voting in the 2020 presidential election. Ira L. Black / Corbis / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard

What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch