The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
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.
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
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Return of a Relative: Tribal Communities in the Northern Great Plains Rally Around Bison Restoration
By Clay Bolt
On Oct. 11 people around the world celebrated the release of four plains bison onto a snow-covered butte in Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
The climate crisis has put at least 945 designated toxic waste sites at severe risk of disaster from escalating wildfires, floods, rising seas and other climate-related disasters, according to a new study from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), as the AP reported.
By Bailey Hopp
If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.
For one year Rob Greenfield grew and foraged all of his own food. No grocery stores, no restaurants, no going to a bar for a drink, not even medicines from the pharmacy.
Apple has removed all 181 vaping-related apps from its App Store, the company announced on Friday. The removal of the apps comes after thousands of people across the country have developed lung illnesses from vaping and 42 people have died.