Threats to penguins
Global penguin populations are declining steadily. Though there is still a great deal to learn about how and why this is happening, from what we do know, it seems that climatic changes, pollution, fisheries and diseases are all taking their toll on penguins.
Trends in Antarctic penguins
Looking at individual populations of penguins in the Antarctic, a very mixed picture emerges. In some locations, penguin numbers that have been low in the past are increasing, while in other areas numbers are falling. Some species seem to be declining overall, while others are stable or even on the up. For example, the number of breeding pairs of King penguins on Heard Island has increased dramatically since 1960 while numbers of Emperor penguins on Adelie island have fallen. If all of the available data across all species and areas is taken together, however, the penguin populations of Antarctica appear to be falling and becoming less robust.
We need to understand what the large-scale threats to penguins are on a global scale as well as the particular dangers to individual populations. Both large-scale conservation action and small scale protection in specific areas are going to be necessary to conserve penguins in the long term.
The likely causes
Climate change and fishing seem to be the most important threats to penguins on a large scale, along with pollution and disease affecting individual populations. We need to investigate exactly how these factors are affecting penguin populations to be able to stall them.
Western Antarctica is warming much more rapidly than the relatively stable East. this discrepancy his reflected in how penguin populations are doing in each region
Climate change is already having a dramatic effect in Antarctica. While the global temperature increase has been about 1 degree over the past 50 years, Western Antarctica has increased by 3 degrees in the same time.
This warming temperature has caused the Antarctic sea ice to shrink. Penguins rely on sea ice to breed, so they are likely to suffer i it continues to diminish. Climate changes might also alter the annual lifecycle timings of many species in the region. The time that penguins arrive in the spring to breed already appears to be changing. Problems will arise when finely tuned balances between penguins, their prey and their predators are disrupted, as different species respond differently to changing temperatures.
Humans are even competing with penguins for food. Krill fishing is a major industry in the Antarctic, along with the harvesting fishing of other species such as mackerel ice fish.
Krill are vital to Antarctica's ecosystem, but are threatened by human activities Many of these species are central prey species for penguins.
As human demand increases, and we become increasingly able to catch vast quantities of marine organisms, we both reduce the food available for penguins, and risk threatening the populations of these marine species. Pressures from human fishing are exacerbated by the sea-ice declines, under which krill breed. Recently, major expansions in the krill fishing industry have occurred, with new mega-trawlers being launched on large-scale fishing expeditions. This can only bode ill for penguins, and falls in penguin numbers in specific locations seem to correspond to the development of krill fisheries.
Read about what Penguin Lifelines is doing to help