A new study has warned that emperor penguins could become extinct completely if temperatures continue to rise, adding that the melting of sea ice would badly affect the food chain of this bird.
Emperor penguin grows up to four feet and it is Antarctica’s largest sea bird. The bird has become popular across the world after being shown in films March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. The rise in temperature could decrease the numbers of these birds by a third by the end of the century, warned the study.
Researchers said that emperor penguins should be protected by the Endangered Species Act. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The research is based on computer models simulating melting sea ice if temperatures rise in the region.
The melting of ice affects the fish, squid and krill which are eaten by the penguins. The emperor penguin is the largest species of penguin weighing between 49 and 99lbs.These penguins have got a distinctive black back and head, white breast and yellow patches on their necks. The flightless birds live together to keep warm in Antarctica where temperatures reach as low as -90C.
In the wild, the emperor penguins live for around 20 years, although some can live for as long as 50 years. Along with nine other species of penguin, it is currently under consideration for inclusion under the US Endangered Species Act.
“The population is declining,” says Hal Caswell, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and an author of a new study in Nature Climate Change. “Unless something changes to stop that, the population will go into extinction.”
By 2100, the entire population could decrease by one-third, with all 45 of the known emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica taking a hit. The biggest drops will happen on the coasts of the western Indian Ocean and eastern Weddell Sea.
The researchers say that one way to help the penguins would be putting them under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
“Also, given this new research and what we already know about global temperatures warming and the changing climate, U.S. should immediately put a marine reserve in place so we can make sure we are not fishing in areas where the penguins need to forage for food,” says Andrea Kavanagh, director of global penguin conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts.”
Unlike other sea birds, Emperor penguins breed and raise their young almost exclusively on sea ice. If the ice breaks up and disappears early into the breeding season, massive breeding failure will occur.
There is already a huge death rate at the breeding stages because only half of chicks live to the end of the breeding season and then only half the survivors live to see another year.
The study used observations from the colony at Terre Adelie in East Antarctica that has been extensively studied and satellite data from other known colonies.