Penguin Populations Decline as Temperature Increases

Written by on November 7, 2012 in Marine Life
Chinstrap penguin and chicks on Seal Island.

Chinstrap penguin and chicks on Seal Island. Photo credit: NOAA.

New research shows that the breeding population of chinstrap penguins has significantly declined with warming of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Previously, tourism had been blamed for the decline in the chinstrap population, but this new study shows that climate change is the biggest factor.

“We now know that two of the three predominant penguin species in the peninsula–chinstrap and Adélie–are declining significantly in a region where, in the last 60 years, it’s warmed by 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) annually and by 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter,” explained Ron Naveen, founder of Oceanites, Inc., a nonprofit conservation organization.

Naveen and co-author Heather Lynch from Stony Brook University, are researchers with the Antarctic Site Inventory (ASI).  ASI has been collecting data on penguin populations in the Antarctic Peninsula since 1994.

The researchers analyzed data collected in December 2011 at Deception Island, known to be one of Antarctica’s busiest tourist locations.  Deception Island is also home to Baily Head, where the largest chinstrap colony is located.

“Our Deception Island work, using the yacht Pelagic as our base, occurred over 12 days and in the harshest of conditions–persistent clouds, precipitation and high winds, the latter sometimes reaching gale force and requiring a lot of patience waiting out the blows.  But, in the end, we achieved the first-ever, one-season survey of all chinstraps breeding on the island,” Naveen said.

“There is strong evidence to suggest a significant decline, greater than 50 percent, in the abundance of chinstraps breeding at Baily Head since 1986-86,” said Lynch.

“By contrast, Gentoo penguins are expanding both in numbers and in range.  These divergent responses are an ongoing focus of our Inventory work effort,” said Naveen.

Lynch concluded that “if tourism is having a negative impact on these populations, it’s too small an effect to be detected against the background of climate change.”

Adelie penguins.

Adelie penguins. Photo credit: NOAA.

To learn more:

Chinstrap penguin on Seal Island.

Chinstrap penguin on Seal Island. Photo credit: NOAA.

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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