WASHINGTON, DC, 18 JULY 2007 Protection under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted for
10 species of penguins found in Antarctica and the southern hemisphere,
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last
week. The Service will conduct a full review of the
10 species' status and determine whether to propose them for inclusion on
the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
The penguin species inhabit areas of Antarctica,
Argentina, Australian Territory Islands, Chile, French Territory Islands,
Namibia, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa and United Kingdom Territory
Islands. Threats to the species include commercial fishing, competition for
prey, habitat loss, danger from non-native predators, contaminants, pollution and impacts to
the marine and terrestrial environment brought on by climate change.
The Service's initial finding was made in response
to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in November
2006 seeking protection for the species, followed by a June 2007 Notice of
Intent to Sue the agency for failing to respond to the petition. The
primary threats to penguins are global warming and industrial fisheries.
The petition asked that 12 penguin species be
listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Service's initial review,
called a 90-day finding under the Act, found substantial information indicating that
listing may be warranted for only 10 of those species.
Abnormally warm ocean temperatures and diminished
sea ice have wreaked havoc on penguin food availability in recent decades.
Less food has led to population declines in species ranging from the southern rockhopper and Humboldt penguins
off South America to the emperor penguin in Antarctica. The
ocean conditions causing these declines have been linked by scientists to global
warming and are projected to intensify in the coming decades.
The emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie,
which was featured in the film March of the Penguins, has
declined by more than 50 percent due to global warming. Krill, an
essential food source for penguins, whales and seals, has declined by up
to 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean.
Studies indicate that even under
the most optimistic greenhouse gas emission scenarios, continued warming over
the coming decades will dramatically affect Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic islands, the Southern
Ocean, and the penguins dependent for survival on these ecosystems.
Photo: Michael Van Woert,
NOAA Nesdis, Ora
Photo courtesy of Center
for Biological Diversity
"These penguin species will march right into
extinction unless greenhouse gas pollution is controlled,"
said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center's Climate, Air, and
Energy Program. "It is not too late to save them, but we
have to seize available solutions to global warming right away.
Each of the petitioned penguins also faces threats
in addition to global warming, from introduced predators, disease, habitat
destruction, disturbance at breeding colonies, oil spills, and marine
pollution to direct harvest. Many species are also
hurt by industrial fisheries, either directly - such as when
individuals are killed in trawls, nets and longlines - or indirectly, through
the depletion of essential prey species like anchovy and krill.
"While our greenhouse emissions melt away the
penguins' world, our industrial fishing fleets are depleting the oceans of
their food," said Brendan Cummings, director of the Center's Oceans Program. "If
penguins are to survive in a world dramatically altered by
global warming, we must eliminate all other threats to these wonderful creatures
- first and foremost, by reforming our abysmally managed fisheries."
Listing these penguin species under the Endangered
Species Act would provide limited and indirect protection, since no
penguins are native to the United States. A listing would make it illegal
to engage in certain activities such as the import or
export of specimens of these species without an ESA permit,
which is issued only if an activity has a conservation benefit. Listing
would also focus international attention on the species' conservation needs.
The 10 penguin species for which the Service found
substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted include
the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), southern rockhopper penguin
(Eudyptes chrysocome), northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi (E.
chrysocome moseleyi)), fiordland crested penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus),
erect-crested penguin (Eudyptes sclateri), macaroni penguin
(Eudyptes chrysolophus), white-flippered penguin (Eudyptula albosignata (E. minor albosignata)), yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes
antipodes), African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), and Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti).
© Peter and Barbara Barham
Photo courtesy of Center for
The petition did not
contain substantial information to indicate that a listing may be warranted for
snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus) and royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli).
Center for Biological
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