Washington – As climate change threatens emperor penguin sea ice habitat, the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced a proposal to list the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of disappearance.
“The life cycle of emperor penguins is tied to stable ice floes, which they need to reproduce, feed and molt,” said Stephanie Jenouvrier, penguin ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
A study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology found that by 2100, 98% of emperor penguin colonies could be on the verge of extinction if no changes are made to current rates of carbon emissions and climate change.
About 70% of the colonies will be in danger sooner, by 2050.
The study looked at global warming trends and the increasing likelihood of extreme weather fluctuations due to global warming. And he noted that extremely low sea ice levels in 2016 led to a massive breeding failure of an emperor penguin colony in Halley Bay in Antarctica.
That year, the seasonal pack ice broke before the penguin chicks had time to develop waterproof adult feathers, and about 10,000 chicks drowned, Jenouvrier said. The colony did not recover afterwards.
Emperor penguins breed exclusively in Antarctica during winter. They endure temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and wind speeds approaching 90 mph by huddling together in groups of several thousand birds. But they can’t survive without enough sea ice.
“These penguins are hit hard by the climate crisis, and the US government is finally recognizing this threat,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.
The US government has previously classified species outside the country as threatened, including the polar bear, which lives in arctic regions and is also threatened by climate change and sea ice loss.
Emperor penguins – the largest penguins in the world – currently number around 270,000 to 280,000 breeding pairs, or 625,000 to 650,000 individuals. The proposed listing was scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday to open to a 60-day public comment period.
The bird’s listing offers protections such as a ban on importing them for commercial purposes. The potential impacts on penguins also need to be assessed by US marine fisheries currently operating in Antarctica.
“Climate change, a priority challenge for this administration, is impacting a variety of species around the world,” said Martha Williams, senior deputy director of the wildlife department. “The decisions made by policymakers today and over the next several decades will determine the fate of the Emperor Penguin.”