The decline of emperor penguins / by The Green Medium

For my last little article I would like shift my focus on another animal that I really like.



We are all aware that climate change is real and ice caps are melting. Like polar bears, our little friend the penguin is also going through some tough times because of climate change.

For instance, in Antarctica, emperor penguins’ population have been dramatically declining since the 1950s. In an article posted in 2001, the population had already decreased by 50% due to their susceptibility to change towards warmer temperatures. Although one cannot blame human-caused climate change for the drastic change since Antarctica experienced a sudden rise in temperature in the 1970s, which dropped back in the 1980s. However, if the current upward trend in temperature continues, by 2100 it is estimated that the population of emperor penguins will rise by 10% midcentury then fall to 19%, thus making them endangered.

Emperor penguins

Emperor penguins

Additionally, there is also the issue with Antarctica losing a quarter of its sea ice over these past 100 years. The amount of ice plays a significant role in determining the health of a colony. When there is too much ice, the mother will have to travel farther away to obtain food leaving behind the father and his offspring. If the distance the mother travels is too far and the father will succumb to his hunger and abandon the baby penguin. If there was too little ice, the colony is exposed and vulnerable to predators. Moreover, during successful breeding seasons, only 50% of the chicks survive until the end of the breeding season, and only half of the survivors live to see the next year.

Melting sea ice also affects the penguin’s food source. The Emperor penguins usually fee on fish, squid, and krill. Krill feeds on small microscopic planktons and algae that grow on the underside of the ice, so if the ice melts the algae and planktons disappear. This disappearance of algae and plankton cause a ripple effect across the food chain.

But hear this out!

Some study suggests that refugia, areas relatively unaltered by climate, may exist in Antarctica beyond 2009. This could act as a buffer region to help prevent the sharp decline towards extinction.


A little sad aside: researchers have witnessed the disappearance of a penguin colony near the West Antarctic Peninsula. In 1948 and 1970s researchers recorded more than 150 breeding pairs, but by 1999 the number when down to 20, and in 2009 they vanished completely.