Environment

End of Century could see the Imminent End of Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguins' Population expected to halve by 2100 if Climate Change destroys their Habitats and Breeding Sites

Experts say that the only penguin species that breeds during the Antarctic winter, the iconic Emperors, expect their population to hit a steep decline. The birds raise their young on sea-ice, entirely hindered by the increasing global warming – causing the breeding sites for these magnificent birds to be curtailed – thereby leaving nothing beneath their feet to breed the young.

As Kiwi researcher Dr Michelle LaRue explained to BBC News:

“These are very resilient birds; they experience tough winters and keep coming back year after year to their breeding sites to raise their chicks.

“Emperors are fighters, but our concern is how long their resilience will continue into the future,” she said.

Sadly enough, the population of the largest penguin of them all is forecasted to halve by the end of 2100 – currently estimated to be about 250,000. This pushed some researchers to take action and propose to upgrade the conservation status for these impressive divers.

Near threatened Classification

They are currently classified as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN, the organisation responsible for the list of Earth’s endangered animals and shall be submitted to lift the Emperors to the more deserving ‘Vulnerable’ category.

Penguins’ breeding success is contingent on fast ice, a low and flat sea-ice that sticks to the edge of the continent or icebergs – making it perfect for hatching eggs and raising them in their vulnerable first year of life. The ice is needed to stay for the whole duration of the chick-rearing time that is 8 or 9 months, so any ice that forms late or breaks up too early, will determine the success of their survival.

Those who don’t lose their furry feathers to grow their waterproof ones will be forced to enter the sea before they’re ready – risking their lives prematurely. The same goes for their fully grown counterparts who peel off their better fare of feathers in January and February for new ones and would risk drowning before the process is even complete.

Despite Antarctica’s ice trends remaining steady, noteworthy losses are still expected even if global warming increases by no more than 2C. The only thing it seems that can put a halt to the possible loss of this species is a combination of fewer greenhouse gas emissions and regulating fishing and other human activities near the Emperors’ breeding sites.

Climate change needs to stabilise for the sake of the Emperor Penguins. So if you are contemplating going vegan you can content yourself with a knowledge that you will be contributing in a small way to cherishing this breathtaking species that inhabits the massive continent of Antarctica.

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Jacobus Lavooij

Jacobus is an experienced editor and writer whose interest vegan issues began with understanding the environmental consequences of the food industry. He loves vegan food and is a passionate communicator of its benefits. He is a Dutch national and lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Contact: jacobus@vegansbethechange.com
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