Like many polar animals, penguins are being adversely affected by climate change, as the warming of the waters has started to impact their environment.
King penguins are known for searching for fish in an area of the Antarctic Ocean that is commonly referred to as the Arctic Polar Front. In this region, the southern colder water meets northern warmer water, which attracts an abundance of plankton, krill and fish. However, because of warming waters, the king penguins are forced to travel further from their homes in order to reach prime feeding sites.
One study that was conducted by scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research between 1992 to 2010 found that an increase in temperature by just one degree Celsius can move feeding sites by up to 80 miles. This is extremely troubling for the penguins, particularly during their breeding season when parents must take turns between incubating eggs and raising their young while the other goes to get food.
Additionally, because of the warmer waters, fish are swimming deeper, causing the penguins to have to swim to further below the surface in order to obtain food. Some penguins have been unable to make this transition, resulting in a decline in the penguin population. Furthermore, the problem is expected to get worse over time, as climate change will continue to warm the waters in these areas.
During a particularly strong El Niño season in 1997 resulting in warmer waters than usual, penguins had to travel twice as far as they normally do, which led to a 34% decline in the adult king penguin population. It took the penguins five years to work their way back up to previous numbers.
It’s fair to wonder if there will come a point when the penguins are simply unable to obtain food at all because the fish have traveled too far away. At that point, the penguins could very easily go extinct in the matter of one bad season. Not only would this be disastrous to the penguins, the entire arctic food chain would be thrown into chaos, leading to an overabundance of small fish. Indeed, the long term future for these animals looks very troubling.
It’s just another reason to start protecting the environment.