Emperor Penguins Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection
Icons of Wild Antarctica Are Threatened by Climate Change
media release by CBC
In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the emperor penguin may warrant Endangered Species Act protection based on threats from climate change. The most ice-dependent of all penguin species, emperor penguins are threatened by the loss of their sea-ice habitat and declining food availability off Antarctica.
“Our carbon pollution is melting the sea-ice habitat emperor penguins need to survive,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “Emperor penguins are the icons of wild Antarctica, and they need rapid cuts in carbon pollution and Endangered Species Act protections if they’re going to have a future.”
Emperor penguins rely on sea ice for raising their chicks and foraging. In parts of Antarctica where sea ice is rapidly disappearing, emperor penguins populations are declining or have been lost entirely. The emperor penguin colony featured in the film March of the Penguins has declined by more than 50 percent, and the Dion Island colony in the Antarctic Peninsula has disappeared. One recent study projected that nearly half of the world’s emperor penguins may disappear by mid-century without drastic cuts in carbon pollution…
What Are The Penguins Telling Us About Climate Change
by Steve Forrest
I recently returned from a trip to Antarctica, an annual migration of sorts, where I have been counting penguins for the past 20 years for the nonprofit research organization Oceanites. I had hoped to revisit a small island where I camped six years ago, studying the population and breeding biology of two species of penguins: the Gentoo and Adélie penguins, which tell two very different stories with respect to climate change.
Penguins need a relatively gentle terrain and access to the sea in order to establish a rookery. They also need ready access to abundant offshore food supplies, as they are tethered to this site for months while rearing chicks. Adélie penguins are habitat specialists: they need ice and eat mostly krill, which they are adept at hunting. Gentoos are more cosmopolitan in diet, eating both krill and fish when available, and seem to flourish in open water.
In 2004, the small island named Petermann was the southernmost limit of the range of the Gentoo penguin, a distinction it had held since 1907 when the island was first visited by the French explorer Charcot. In Charcot’s time, Adélie penguins — the classic tuxedo-wearing icon of Antarctica — outnumbered the Gentoos by a margin of 20 to 1. At the time my studies began in 1994, the ratio had been reversed; Gentoos outnumbered the Adélies about 2 to 1, and were increasing as fast as the Adélies were going down. All of this had been happening over the course of just decades – the blink of an eye in ecological time…
Eudyptes sclateri nests on several New Zealand islands, and feeds in sub-Antarctic waters. It gathers in large colonies of thousands of birds, and often nests alongside other penguins such as rockhoppers. After the male has secured a nesting site, the female joins to build a nest and lay two eggs. Little else is known about this species, but it’s believed to feed on krill and squid.
The population of E. sclateri has undergone a rapid decline in recent years, and the small breeding range is thought to make it vulnerable. It is unclear what the main threats to this species are.
E. sclateri is protected within a World Heritage site, and all cattle and rats have been eradicated from one of islands on which this species breeds.
Sheepdog ‘bodyguards’ protect endangered penguins from foxes, saving them from extinction
by Michael Graham Richard
"No foxes have killed penguins in the past seven years"
This is clever. Very clever. Sheepdogs are bred and trained to protect sheep against wolves, but that doesn’t mean that their skills can’t be used to protect different animals against other species of predators. This is exactly what the Maremma Project did on Warrnambool’s Middle Island, off the south coast of Australia. They took 2 Maremma sheepdogs, a breed originally from central Italy, and brought them to the island to protect a dwindling and seriously endangered population of Little Penguins from foxes.
The situation was dire around seven years ago when the sheepdogs were introduced: Where a colony of around 1,500 Little Penguins once thrived, only 4 breeding pairs remained. The colony was truly on the brink of extinction, at least on the island. We first wrote about this about four-and-a-half years ago, and since then things have kept improving, surpassing the expectations of pretty much everyone involved. The last census showed about 200 breeding adults, but most importantly, not one Little Penguin has been killed by a fox since their dog bodyguards landed on the island! …
Also known as the Fiordland penguin or the Tawaki, the Fiordland crested penguin is a species of crested penguin found along the Fiordland coast of New Zealand and Stewart Island. Like other penguins the Fiordland penguin is mainly pelagic and will spend long times at sea feeding on squid, fish and crustaceans, which are usually caught near the shore. During the breeding season Fiordland crested penguins will build their nests in coastal temperate forests, one penguin will tend to the nest and guard its chick while the other will go out and catch food. Once the young is old enough its guardian will leave to hunt as well, and after the chick molts it will leave the nest and move on out to sea. Currently the Fiordland crested penguin is listed as vulnerable as its threatened by introduced predators like dogs and cats.
Long, long ago, O Best Beloved, the ancestor of the penguins could soar through the air. So why did the penguin give up flight? Rudyard Kipling never wrote a Just So story with an answer, but now scientists have one: The penguin doesn’t fly because it would rather swim.
A new study of murres, penguinlike seabirds that retain the ability to take wing, shows just how costly and inefficient it is to be both a diver and a flyer. The new findings back the long-held hypothesis that penguins gave up the heavens more than 70 million years ago to become kings of the waves.
"This study contributes a lot by putting hard numbers on the energy costs of moving through both the aerial and aquatic realms," writes Daniel Ksepka of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who studies penguin evolution and was not involved with the research, in an e-mail…
These king penguin chicks were pictured in early spring of this year in the colony at St. Andrew Bay, South Georgia. King penguins colonize in huge groups, and this colony is more than 100,000 penguins strong. Park regulations mandate that only 100 people may be ashore at any one time and must stay 10 meters away from the colony.
The park asks that visitors “Take particular care not to disturb, or shift, moulting king penguins.”
The largest penguin species, the Emperor Penguin, has an adaptation in its bones (which is special amongst bird species) that allows it to survive deep dives for food. Do you know what that adaptation is?
The bones of the Emperor Penguin are solid, rather than hollow, which eliminates the risk of mechanical barotrauma that would otherwise occur during deep dives with pressures up to 40 times that found on the surface. Most bird species have at least some bones that are hollow, or pneumatized, allowing for flight.
Some penguin species, like the Emperor Penguin, and the Ostrich, do not have these hollow bones. Notice, these are the bird species that do not fly.
(via: Biodiversity Heritage Library)
image from The American natural history; a foundation of useful knowledge of the higher animals of North America, 1914, by William T. Hornaday
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for the establishment of increased protections in two parts of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica at an event held last night (March 18) by The Pew Charitable Trusts at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.
"The Ross Sea … is a natural laboratory. And we disrespect it at our peril, as we do the rest of the ocean," Kerry said in his remarks at the event, which also screened the award-winning documentary "The Last Ocean," which highlights the Ross Sea…
Emperor Penguins with blue bellies, green beaks, and red eyes huddle over a patch of black snow — a multicolored Antarctic landscape, as seen through the eye of an infrared thermal imager.
The psychedelic colors, which correspond to different temperatures, reveal that much of a penguin’s outer surface is cooler than the surrounding air — except, of course, for their unfeathered eyes, beaks, and feet.
“Most of the body that is covered by thick plumage was found to be, on average, 4 to 6 degreesC colder than surrounding air temperature,” said biophysical ecologist Dominic McCafferty of the University of Glasgow. Only the birds’ eyes measured above freezing. “At first, we were very surprised by this discovery,” he said.
The observations, reported today in Biology Letters, suggest that extreme radiative cooling draws heat from a penguin’s feathery surface. (On a clear, cold night, you can see the effects of radiative cooling in the frost that forms on windows, roofs, and grasses.) But because they’re insulated beneath layers of feathers and fat, the birds can still maintain a body temperature of about 39 degrees C (102 degrees F), even when shuffling through the -40 C Antarctic night…