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Emperor penguins in the Southwest Ross Sea
Photo: Michael Van Woert, NOAA Nesdis, Ora



Staff Report

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.

Emperor penguins
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).

African Penguins
© Peter and Barbara Barham
Photo courtesy of Center for Biological Diversity

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 Diversity

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