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The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world.

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Penguins in Peril

Posted August 21, 2008 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

Is penguin health and the penguin population a barometer for the health of Earth's seas? Oil spills are only occasional events, but anyone who visits a beach can see the litter that's left behind. Half of the world's 17 penguin species are now endangered or at risk of becoming so. Several species - including the erect-crested, rockhopper, Adelie, and Chinstrap - have all experienced population declines of up to 50 percent in the last 30 years.

So what do the problems with penguins have to do with the state of Earth's oceans? University of Washington professor Dee Boersma has studied penguins for nearly 30 years. She blames the current plight of the penguins on human activities that have affected the oceans. "Penguins are in trouble," she explains. As for the relationship between penguin health and the health of Earth's oceans, Boersma says that the birds "certainly are canaries in the coal mine".

Temperate Zones

Do you envision all of the planet's penguins living in Antarctica, surviving months of sunless blizzards? Think again! Many of the planet's penguin species, such as the yellow-eyed and African penguins, live in temperate areas. Still, the Galapagos penguins number about 2,500 birds now - a quarter of their total in the 1970s.

Because these species live nearer to humans than their southern relatives, they face threats from commercial fishing, guano mining, and oil drilling. Egg harvesting and oil spills are also two major threats to temperate penguin species.

Antarctic Penguins

Many penguins live on the icy glaciers of Antarctica, of course. Recently, I've been watching the Planet Earth TV series on the Discovery Channel. It's pretty interesting to see the male Emperor penguins huddle together during the dark months of winter snow storms to incubate the eggs.

But how much longer will they be able to do so? Although the East Antarctic ice sheet (the largest such area in the world) hasn't been affected much by the current climate change, scientists have recently seen a loss of some glaciers and sea ice caused by rising temperatures.

For penguins, less ice means less territory. It also means less krill (small, shrimp-like animals) for them to feed on, so the penguins must travel farther through the icy water to find food. It also means that the seasons are changing. A study published in BioScience found that some baby penguins were unable to survive because they could not grow a waterproof coating of feathers in time to survive freezing waters.

Options

What can be done for the penguins and other species that swim the planet's oceans?

  • Scientists recommend formal counting and tracking of the penguins to better understand population dynamics.
  • Dee Boersma suggests creating a coalition to monitor and protect the world's 43 major groups of penguins (limit pollution, fishing, etc.) – with benefits to other animals, too.
  • Look at what we're doing to the oceans in general – because what's bad for the ocean animals can't be good for people, either.

Resources:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/07/01/eapenguin101.xml

http://www.biology-blog.com/blogs/permalinks/7-2008/human-influences-challenge-penguin-populations.html

http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-editorials/editorial_2008_07.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penguin

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Guru
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#1

Re: Penguins in Peril

08/22/2008 10:52 AM

As we sow, so shall we reap - hmmm...where did I hear that before?

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#2

Re: Penguins in Peril

08/22/2008 10:53 AM

I believe that you are touching on a subject that is affecting most of the Earth's natural wildlife. It isn't just penguins that are finding their territory stolen at a steady rate. I heard that there was a poll and about half of Americans don't believe in global warming. It seems outrageous that while you may believe in it, there is a very good chance that the person sitting next to you doesn't.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Penguins in Peril

08/22/2008 10:58 AM

What an amazing number! I know that there are many theories on the basis of global warming/climate change and the cycles of the Earth's temperature, but people do need to wake up and realize that our lifestyle does have an impact on the rest of the living things around us.

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: Penguins in Peril

08/22/2008 12:04 PM

Read any thread here on, or wandered over to, global warming and/or climate change. I think pretty close to half of the CR4 posters (at least from the USA) don't believe in that, and we should represent the better-educated segment. This concerns me. The evidence is too clear and well-documented to ignore like that.

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#5

Re: Penguins in Peril

08/23/2008 11:10 PM

Wait, wasn't there a story about sending the polar bears down to the south pole because the Arctic was melting too fast, or something like that a few weeks ago? Gotta keep the penguins healthy inorder to keep the bears alive

Ferris

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#6

Re: Penguins in Peril

09/21/2008 12:30 AM

Average ocean temps are lower so I can't get my mind around the warming issue

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#7

Re: Penguins in Peril

09/21/2008 5:27 PM

Why doesn't the author of this article go back and revisit it? And then write it a chapter of it entitled: Humans in Peril (the dire Perils brought about by the leaders of the world in order to screw over and more so enslave their constituents...) - A How to Do it book.

Cheers

Ferris

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Penguins in Peril

09/22/2008 7:52 AM

While I believe what's bad for animals is usually bad for people, this blog focuses on topics related to animal science. Yes, humans are an animal species - but I prefer to discuss those that cannot verbally discuss themselves.

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#9

Re: Penguins in Peril

09/22/2008 2:37 PM

We may all become fascinated by the demise of another species due the lack of social consciousness of the industrial revolution and eradication by animal by product industries in previous centuries.

We all would be in the same boat were it not for the necessary drugs and supplements which prevent our suffering a similar fate due slow consumption of mercury and various poisons.

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