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Decrease in Emperor Penguin population

By Kyra Hall

There has been a tremendous amount of research over the past decade on the effects of climate change on polar environments. The ice in these regions is considered by most scientists as the warning system for drastic climate changes. Climate change is a well-documented phenomenon that, through ice cores taken at polar regions, scientists have been able to track with reasonable accuracy. The Earth goes through periods of drastic heating and cooling, which cause changes to the environment and to the life that inhabits the planet. Currently, the Earth is entering into a warming period. For years, global warming has been the hot button issue of environmentalists. They claim that humans are causing this change and that humans can stop it. Whether climate change is caused by nature or by human activity, the fact remains that it is happening.

Scientist have started speculating on how this change will affect all life on Earth. Recently, a research team set out to project the effects of melting sea ice on the breeding populations of Emperor Penguins. Emperor Penguins are well-known for their parenting behavior, which involved the fathers of chicks huddling together and keeping their young tucked in a layer of fat, resting atop their feet. The mothers go off to hunt, and must journey miles to the edge of the ice while the male penguins incubate and hatch the eggs. The male and female penguins take shifts hunting for the family and sheltering the chicks until the babies are able to hunt for themselves.

The new study predicts that by 2100, Emperor Penguins will go from having 3,000 breeding pairs to less than 500. The study is based on projected melting of the sea ice and the assumption that the penguins will not move further inland as a response. Though the study may seem alarming, it cannot be taken as an accurate figure on its own. The models used predict the worst possible outcome, where a reduction in food and sea ice and a lack of adaptive behavior cause the penguin population to be decimated.

In reality, this huge drop in penguin populations would be the last link in a chain of much more catastrophic environment destruction, which no one can predict. Conservation efforts are important, and each person should do their part to reduce environmental pollutants. There is likely very little humans can do to alter the ultimate course of climate change, but reducing one’s impact on the environment is never a bad idea. Are the penguins really in danger? Is there anything we can do to help them? The answer to both questions is, most likely, no. The study is speculative and up to interpretation. The drop in penguin population could be less, it could be more, or it could not occur at all. Only time will tell.

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