Study highlights climate threat to king penguins

Study highlights climate threat to king penguins
King penguins back from the foraging trip Credit: T. Powolny

Warmer sea temperatures are forcing Indian Ocean king penguins to travel further for food, cutting into their breeding season researchers said Tuesday, warning of a "serious threat" from climate change.

A rise of one degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) in the shifts the birds' hunting ground about 130 kilometres (81 miles) southward, said a study in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers from France and Japan fitted king penguins from the Crozet archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean with satellite transmitters, and tracked their foraging trips for a period of 16 years until 2010.

They looked particularly at the Antarctic Polar Front, an area where warm and cold waters converge to offer a rich banquet of plankton and fish.

Usually, the penguins ill travel about 300-500 km (200-300 miles) for food.

But in years which were warmer due to weather "anomalies" like El Nino, "the penguins not only went further but also they dived deeper," said the study.

During one warm period, in 1997, mean foraging distances for chick-rearing penguins doubled, said the study, and the birds had to dive about 30 metres (100 feet) deeper on average.

"Synchronously with these very unfavourable environmental conditions, the penguin breeding population experienced a 34 percent decline," said the report.

Penguins under the water. Credit: Thibaut Powolny

The findings illustrated that warming had an immediate and major effect on the penguins' wellbeing, said the researchers.

"Non-flying, swimming predators such as penguins are highly sensitive to environmental changes especially during the breeding period because of their low travelling speed," they wrote.

"Future climatic scenarios indicate a warming of the surface waters that should lead to a progressive southward shift of the Polar Front... potentially representing a serious threat for penguins and other diving predators of the Southern Ocean."

For the study, six to 15 from the Baie du Marin colony on Possession Island were fitted with every summer.


Explore further

Researchers use genome analysis to understand how King Penguins came to breed on Crozet Islands

More information: Nature Communications, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ncomms9220
Journal information: Nature Communications

© 2015 AFP

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Oct 27, 2015
Now the heartless Deniers are even picking on helpless little penguins.

Oct 27, 2015
Now the heartless Deniers are even picking on helpless little penguins.
Such a worthy post for thermodynamics to uprate.

Oct 28, 2015
"The Penguins will be fine" - Me

Warm-water planktons and fishes will adapt. The Penguins will struggle for a while and adapt to new seasons and conditions. They have been around for eons, crossing oceans and continents, and you expect something as pathetic as 1C change to threaten them permanently? Hardly.

The present theory is that the common ancestor of all modern penguins once lived in tropical forest. If that is true, then the deep genetics for adaptation is probably already present and dormant in a certain portion of the population.

Additionally, and I do not mean this in a heartless way...

...there is no evidence to suggest that everything is "meant" to survive forever. The fossil record is filled with countless entire genus which disappeared for one reason or another.

I am not saying that is acceptable if man causes it to happen, but I am saying we probably should not shed tears every time a species is "threatened".

Oct 28, 2015
The modern Penguin in Antarctica migrates inland directly into the heart of winter, but why?

Perhaps the lower amount of food during winter implies that they need to spend less energy to survive, so lowering their body temperature and forming a large bulky mass appears to allow them to spend less energy.

If Temperatures warm, there MAY be more energy available in the food chain in the waters of Antarctica, and the Antarctic pengiun behavior may change.

These critters are designed to adapt and survive.

Oct 28, 2015
The modern Penguin in Antarctica migrates inland directly into the heart of winter, but why?

You are referring specifically to the emperor penguin, which - despite the reference to 'inland' - sets up its colonies on ice shelves over the ocean. Because the chicks are still fluffy and helpless during Antarctic spring, when the ice starts to melt and crack open starting from the edges and working inward, the penguins lay their eggs as far away from the sea as possible. It's a race to raise them to the point where they can swim before the ocean comes to meet them.

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