Quantcast

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

Climate

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

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Catherine Flessen / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Non-perishable foods, such as canned goods and dried fruit, have a long shelf life and don't require refrigeration to keep them from spoiling. Instead, they can be stored at room temperature, such as in a pantry or cabinet.

Read More
Tero Vesalainen / iStock / Getty Images

By Julia Ries

  • Two flu strains are overlapping each other this flu season.
  • This means you can get sick twice from different flu strains.
  • While the flu vaccine isn't a perfect match, it's the best defense against the flu.

To say this flu season has been abnormal is an understatement.

Read More
Sponsored
Pexels

By Andrew Joseph Pegoda

At least 40 percent to 90 percent of American voters stay home during elections, evidence that low voter turnout for both national and local elections is a serious problem throughout the U.S.

Read More
Arx0nt / Moment / Getty Images

By Alina Petre, MS, RD

Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for optimal health.

Read More
Plastic waste that started as packaging clogs tropical landfills. apomares / iStock / Getty Images

By Clyde Eiríkur Hull and Eric Williams

Countries around the world throw away millions of tons of plastic trash every year. Finding ways to manage plastic waste is daunting even for wealthy nations, but for smaller and less-developed countries it can be overwhelming.

Read More