The effects of climate change, overfishing, chronic oil pollution and predation by introduced mammals are among the major factors cited repeatedly by penguin scientists as contributing to these population drops. Prior to the conference, thirteen of these penguin species were already classified as endangered or threatened. Some penguin species may face extinction in this century.
More than 180 penguin biologists, government officials, conservation advocates, and zoo and aquarium professionals from 22 nations have convened in Boston for the five day International Penguin Conference, which is being hosted this year by the New England Aquarium. The conference is held every three to four years, and this is the first time that it has been held in the Northern Hemisphere.
Penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere with a single species on the Galapagos Islands at the Equator to four Antarctic penguin species that are most well known to the public, yet 13 other species also live in South America, southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and on the many sub-Antarctic islands. Throughout their ranges, nearly all of penguin species are in significant decline or under duress due to a host of common factors.
Earlier this year, African penguins, found in Namibia and South Africa, were reclassified internationally as endangered as many breeding colonies in the western part of their range have disappeared. Important food bearing cold water currents have shifted and are now routinely found much further offshore. The increased roundtrip commuting distance for African penguins to obtain food has been devastating to their population.
Scientists are closely watching the potential effects on several Antarctic penguin species that are highly dependent on the presence of sea ice for breeding, foraging and molting. Emperor penguins, which were the subject of “March of the Penguins,” could see major population declines by 2100, if they do not adapt, migrate and change the timing of their growth stages.
Adelie penguin colonies in the Antarctic’s Ross Sea have coped for several years with two super-sized icebergs that have grounded there and created an enormous physical barrier. It has resulted in lower breeding rates and the migration of many animals out of the area.
Sea ice also creates an important nursey cover for juvenile krill which feed on ice algae. Krill is the primary fuel at the base the Antarctic food chain. Reduced sea ice cover has led to a dramtic decline in krill and will likely lead to a decline in many wildlife populations further up the food chain that relies on krill as its foundation food source.
The effects of climate change on penguins are very real. Many environmental conditions are changing and much less predictable. For penguins living in harsh conditions, the ability to properly time when to migrate, nest, mate and seek food are critical decisions often with a very small margin for error, both for both individual animals and entire species.OVERFISHING AND BYCATCH
Thousands of penguins are also killed annually when caught in fixed fishing nets.CHRONIC OILING
SUMMARY: The goal of the 7th International Penguin Conference is to present ongoing research, identify current and emerging conservations issues and create action plans that will help create a strategic global effort on behalf of these threatened species.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, please go to: http://penguinconference.org/
Tony LaCasse | Newswise Science News
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