King penguins are an iconic symbol of the southernmost point of our planet. Their home, Antarctica, is governed by no nation and has no permanent human settlement.
Considering the extreme isolation of the continent, it may come as a surprise that human activity is a threat to the king penguin’s habitat. According to a research paper published on February 26, global warming will force the relocation or death of 70% of Antarctica’s king penguin population by 2099 if it continues at its current rate.
Facing the same changes in habitat, other penguin species such as the emperor, Adelie, and chinstrap might also be facing the same grim fate.
Why Are King Penguins in Danger?
Simply put, as ocean waters warm, the fish that comprise the bulk of the king penguin’s diet will move further south toward cooler waters. This movement will force penguins to also relocate. Or they will have to swim farther from their current home for new food sources. Their current habitats are small islands surrounding the main Antarctic continent
Penguin chicks rely on their parents to bring them food. If the parents must travel a greater distance to find it, the risk increases that chicks may be malnourished or die of starvation. The longer trips for food also heighten the risk of penguins parents falling prey to predators or injury.
Additionally, penguins can’t easily move with the fish. The islands that currently make up their home are well-suited for penguin breeding colonies. In contrast, there are few such islands in the Southern Ocean.
Human activity seems a likely cause of the climate change affecting Antarctica. Despite the significant distance between the home islands of king penguins and large human settlements, they could still fall prey. Without a more conscientious attitude toward our environmental stewardship, king penguins are living under the shadow of possible extinction.
Image Source: Pixabay