The last emperor penguins

The Emperor Penguin species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The last emperor penguins

The Emperor Penguin species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Together with nine other penguin species, it was considered for possible inclusion in the US Endangered Species Act in 2010. The sharp decrease in food resources due to the effects of global warming and industrial fishing on crustacean and fish populations.

Among the causes that have been considered are diseases, habitat destruction and human presence that disturbs the breeding pairs. Under this last point, tourism was particularly harmful. One study showed that emperor penguin chicks were more fearful after being approached by a helicopter from less than 1000m away.

A population decline of about 50% has been observed in Terra Adelie due to increased mortality of adults, especially males, during a prolonged warm period in the late 1970s that led to the reduction of the ice floe. Conversely, the success rate of egg hatching decreases as the extent of the sea ice increases.

For these reasons, the species is considered very sensitive to climatic risks.

The last emperor penguins

A study conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution predicts that the emperor penguin could be in danger of disappearing by the year 2100 due to climate change.

By applying mathematical models to predict how the reduction in sea ice will affect an important colony of emperor penguins in Adelie Land, an 87% decline in the colony's population was predicted by the end of the century, which will decrease the population from 3000 to just 400 pairs.

Such a decline could affect the entire penguin population of around 200,000 pairs. In 2009, thanks to satellite images showing large areas of ice covered in excrement, large enough to be visible from space, scientists were able to discover ten hitherto unknown emperor penguin colonies.

French researchers from Astrolabe identified two of these colonies in the vicinity of the Mertz glacier, whose future was considered uncertain due to the breakup of the glacier itself. These two colonies included 6,000 chicks, at least 12,000 breeding specimens.