Coming Soon: A World without Penguins

The threat of extinction hangs over penguins. Care2 bloggers have written about the precipitous drop among the Adélie and African penguins. While the film “March of the Penguins” was popular, a lot of attention focused on the 13 species of penguins (out of 18) that are threatened or endangered.

In the last week researchers have raised the specter of global warming as the culprit responsible for the precipitous decline of two species of Antarctic penguins: the Emperor and the Chinstrap.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) biologist Stephanie Jenouvrier has been studying the Emperor penguin and reports the Dion Islets colony dropped from 150 breeding pairs in 1948 to none in 2009. She and her colleagues warn that if global temperatures continue to rise, the Terre Adélie penguins may also disappear.

The species relies on sea ice for breeding and raising their chicks. Disappearing ice increases the already high mortality among Emperor chicks. It also robs them of their food source, in a chain of losses that starts with plankton that grows beneath the ice and moves through the krill, squid and fish that feed on the plankton.

Jenouvrier says: “Our best projections show roughly 500 to 600 breeding pairs remaining by the year 2100. Today, the population size is around 3000 breeding pairs.”

Next page: Chinstraps Disappearing; Humans to Blame

As for the chinstrap penguins, a report in “Live Science” indicates scientists have been taken by surprise over the loss of more than a third of the breeding colony of Deception Island. In the 1990s they predicted warming temperatures would lead to larger numbers because the chinstraps prefer ice-free waters.

Unfortunately, they are dependent on the same food web that feeds the Emperors. When the ice disappears, so does dinner. Andres Barbosa of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid says:

This is an example of how the human activity far from the poles can affect the life at thousands of kilometers far from our homes. Therefore, a more responsible use of the energy and the fossil fuels is necessary to preserve the planet and then the Antarctica.

He also points to the harmful effects of tourism, overfishing and even research as factors in the decline of penguin colonies.

Hal Caswell, the WHOI senior mathematical biologist who collaborated with Stephanie Jenouvrier on the Emperor penguin study says:

We rely on the functioning of those ecosystems. We eat fish that come from the Antarctic. We rely on nutrient cycles that involve species in the oceans all over the world. Understanding the effects of climate change on predators at the top of marine food chains—like Emperor penguins—is in our best interest, because it helps us understand ecosystems that provide important services to us.

Penguin colonies are in a steady decline. Human behaviors are at fault. The question remains whether we can change those behaviors fast enough or whether future generations will grow up in a world without penguins.

Related Care2 Stories

Why Global Warming Spells Disaster for Adélie Penguins (VIDEO)

Penguin Species in Danger of Extinction

Knit a Sweater, Save a Penguin


Photo credits: Thinkstock

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

very sad

Phyl M.
Bu M.3 years ago

How sad humanity is! How sad it is that humans are pushing & pushing extinction of more than one species because of greed & hate.

Charli S.
Charlotte S.3 years ago

I don't think I want to live in a world without penguins. And can our world survive the loss? Each animal has a purpose and if the animal is lost then it causes problems. If God indeed made us stewards of this earth what do you think god thinks of us now? I'd be really worried if I was in a religion that believed this.

Eric Luu
Eric Luu3 years ago


Sheri D.
Sheri D.3 years ago

It would be tragic for any species of penguin to become extinct.

Haleene W.
Haleene W.3 years ago

Change happens. We can all do what we can to keep Earth in good shape, but it is arrogant to think we can change Earths growth or that it can't happen in our life time. There are new under water explosions of lava being found all the time, and volcano's going off heating the air, earthquakes wiping the over populated humans out, whole towns being eliminated with lightning fires, hurricanes and tornadoes, You want to help make a real difference? Stop flying in the enormously polluting planes. Bring commerce back to the towns and cities as you get form this point to that. Work closer to home, live closer to family. It takes a village.

Don Schneider
Don Schneider3 years ago

You could see the humor here if you had attended a Catholic high school with Dominican nuns !

Reinhard B.
Reinhard B.3 years ago

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

"Die Größe eines Volkes und seine moralischen Fortschritte können daran gemessen werden, wie es seine Tiere behandelt."

Those who are cruel to animals cannot be righteous human beings.

Wer gegen Tiere grausam ist, kann kein guter Mensch sein.

Beth Davis
Beth D.3 years ago

It will be over by 2100, we will have destroyed the land, air and water. There will be no food, no plants because there will be no bees to pollenate. We already see the effects now. No decent soil left, animals will die off. We will have caused the sea levels to rise and islands will disappear. Our coastal regions will be eroded. So we are now experiencing hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tsunami's, regional flooding (100 yr floods, in ten years) loss of fresh water sources, global disaster. How much longer until we take this seriously?