Penguins marching into trouble

February 12, 2009
Magellanic penguins are decling due to overfishing, climate change and pollution, new data says. Credit: Graham Harris/Wildlife Conservation Society

A quarter-century of data reveals how changing weather patterns and land use, combined with overfishing and pollution, are taking a heavy toll on penguin numbers.

A combination of changing weather patterns, overfishing, pollution, and other factors have conspired to drive penguin populations into a precipitous decline, according to long-term research funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The findings were presented today by University of Washington professor and WCS scientific fellow Dr. P. Dee Boersma at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago. Boersma has studied Magellanic penguins in Argentina for WCS since 1982.

Boersma, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Penguin Project, has recently published two papers documenting some of the serious challenges faced by Magellanic penguins at a colony she has studied for more than 25 years at Punta Tombo, a wildlife reserve some 1,000 miles south of Buenos Aires. The papers appeared in the February issues of the journals Marine Ecology Progress Series, and Ecological Monographs.

Boersma's data reveal that penguins at Punta Tombo are traveling farther to find food than they did just a decade ago due to changing ocean conditions and overfishing—particularly of anchovies, a favorite penguin food. This has forced some penguins to attempt to nest outside of protected areas where they often fall prey to predators. Meanwhile, changing weather patterns have also led to increased instances of heavy rains, which have caused high mortality of penguin chicks in five of the last 25 years.

All told, penguin numbers at Punta Tombo have declined by more than 20 percent in the last 22 years, from 300,000 to just 200,000 breeding pairs, Boersma said.

"Penguins are having trouble with food on their wintering grounds and if that happens they're not going to come back to their breeding grounds," she said. "If we continue to fish down the food chain and take smaller and smaller fish like anchovies, there won't be anything left for penguins and other wildlife that depend on these small fish for food."

Of the world's 17 species of penguins 12 are rapidly declining Boersma added.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

Explore further: 'Deadly dozen' reports diseases worsened by climate change

Related Stories

'Deadly dozen' reports diseases worsened by climate change

October 7, 2008

Health experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society today released a report that lists 12 pathogens that could spread into new regions as a result of climate change, with potential impacts to both human and wildlife health ...

Pressure mounts to restore Great Lakes water levels

October 2, 2012

Pressure is mounting on the U.S. and Canadian governments to explore ways to restore water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron that have been lowered nearly 2 feet due to historic dredging on the St. Clair River. The two lakes, ...

Humanity decimating planetary wildlife

October 27, 2016

Nearly three-fifths of all animals with a backbone—fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals—have been wiped out since 1970 by human appetites and activity, according to a grim study released Thursday.

Recommended for you

Controlling ice formation

March 24, 2017

(Phys.org)—Researchers have demonstrated that ice crystals will grow along straight lines in a controlled way on microgrooved surfaces. Compared to the random formation of ice crystals on smooth surfaces, the ice on the ...

Study into who is least afraid of death

March 24, 2017

A new study examines all robust, available data on how fearful we are of what happens once we shuffle off this mortal coil. They find that atheists are among those least afraid of dying... and, perhaps not surprisingly, ...

Astronomers identify purest, most massive brown dwarf

March 24, 2017

An international team of astronomers has identified a record breaking brown dwarf (a star too small for nuclear fusion) with the 'purest' composition and the highest mass yet known. The object, known as SDSS J0104+1535, is ...

Creating materials in a novel way by 3-D printing bacteria

March 24, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at Delft University of Technology has developed a means for 3-D printing a gel containing bacteria onto a base to create materials in a novel way. In their paper published in the journal ...

Converting water into hydrogen more efficiently

March 24, 2017

Scientists have long been puzzled why it is easier to produce hydrogen from water in an acidic environment than in an alkaline environment. Marc Koper comes with an explanation: the reason is the electric field at the surface ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.