Climate change is presently a great threat to many arctic and Antarctic species. Penguins, found in the lower hemisphere, are no exception. Penguin species number about twenty, and more than half of those are highly endangered. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, only two species are considered stable at present.
Penguins are a beloved species, but not so much that people are yet eager to conserve resources, protect and defend habitats and put endangered species enthusiasm above such things as celebrity gossip, sports and or drunk driving.
In the case of the Emperor penguin, raising their chicks upon land locked sea ice, this is particularly tragic. Early melting sea ice, for example on the Western Antarctic peninsula forces young chicks to be swept into the ocean before they are mature enough, or developed physically with water proof feathers, to tolerate the sea and its temperatures.
Adélie penquins are also at great risk of extinction due to warming sea ice. Although mating pairs nest on land, they are finding it increasingly more difficult to find nest sites not covered with snow. This is because snow accumulates more rapidly in warmer temperatures wherein air moisture drives more frequent and deep snow falls. They are estimated to be more at risk than the Emperor penguins due to increasingly warmer temperatures every year.
For almost every variety of penguin, food supply is dwindling as well. Many depend upon krill, and krill depends upon algae growth on the underside of sea ice. Less ice means less algae, and this means less krill, resulting in fewer penguins. The Macaroni penguin has already declined by more than fifty percent, and has never recovered anything close to former numbers of sustainability.
Warmer region penguins, such as the iconic Galapagos penguin are at risk due to recent El Nino events that deeply curtail their food supplies.
It is not only earth warming that threatens penguins. They are also at severe risk of drowning in industrial fishing long-lines, equipment entanglement, and also by the fishing industries continual depletion of their natural food supply of fish. If all of that were not threatening enough there is also non native introduced predators, oil spills, marine pollution, habitat loss and destruction, disease and just plain human disturbance.
Penguins, a beautiful specimen of amazing diversity and adaptation, may soon be only found in history and picture books.