Global warming putting heat to penguin population
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2007 11:48AM EST
The world's penguin population is virtually melting away as a direct result of global warming, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Federation.
The new study, Antarctic Penguins and Climate Change, was released to coincide with the United Nations climate conference taking place in Bali, Indonesia.
It suggests that four penguin populations are suffering serious losses due to the shrinking ice shelf, said Julie Langer, of WWF Canada.
"What we've looked at is the four populations that actually breed on the Antarctic continent and they are experiencing declines overall -- sometimes what you might call population crashes," Langer told CTV's Canada AM.
"They're in a completely disrupted state because of the huge temperature increases that is happening in the Antarctic continent."
While climate change seems to be having an impact around the world, the effect is most pronounced in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, because the climates are so sensitive to any temperature shifts.
"The poles are actually warming four or five times faster than the rest of the planet," Langer said.
"You've heard about global warming but it's acute at the poles. As the temperatures increase, the ice melts. When you have less ice at the edge of the continent, you have less algae, less krill, less food for the penguins."
And specifically, less ice means less habitat that is essential for penguin breeding habits.
"It's like a house of cards. Once you pull one little thing out, you can get a catastrophic effect whereby their food is not there, their habitat's not there and then the population crashes out."
According to the study:
- The Southern Ocean has experienced warming all the way down to a depth of 3,000 metres.
- The Antarctic Peninsula is warming five times faster than the global average.
- Sea ice now covers 40 per cent less area than it did 26 years ago off the West Antarctic Peninsula.
Those factors have led to a major decrease in krill, a major food source for Chinstrap penguins, which have experienced 40 to 66 per cent losses in some colonies.
Gentoo penguins are suffering much the same plight, while Emperor penguins, the most iconic residents of the region, have seen many of their colonies halved in size over the past 50 years, WWF finds.
The Adelie penguin population, meanwhile, has dropped by 65 per cent over the past 25 years, the report finds.
It also states that ice used for breeding is often thinner and less stable than in the past, meaning fewer eggs hatch and more young are blown away before they're ready to survive on their own.
Langer said the Antarctic penguin population is approaching a tipping point where the decline will become irreversible.
We're not there yet, she said, and the WWF is urging Canada to take major efforts to become a global leader in commiting to reducing emissions.
"At a certain point you can't recover from that. Now, this is why it is so absolutely urgent to get on with solving the global warming problem, to stopping a catastrophic climate change from happening," she said.