Scientists have already warned that, left unchecked, climate change is likely to wipe out up to a million species of plants and animals that currently inhabit Earth. Now you can add the emperor penguin to this list. According to a study published Tuesday in the journal Biology of global change, the beloved little wadders are expected to be pushed to the brink of complete extinction by the end of this century.
Emperor penguins, the largest species in the Spheniscidae family, live almost exclusively in Antarctica; and according to research carried out last year by the British Antarctic Survey, there are almost 280,000 breeding pairs of these birds. While this is more than previously thought, any optimism about the future of these flightless creatures has been short-lived. According to the new research paper, 98% of emperor penguins will be extinct by 2100 – and nearly two-thirds will be extinct from Earth by 2050.
It’s true: if nothing changes, scientists warn, emperor penguins will be doomed to near-extinct status by the turn of the new century. Unless you are completely wiped out, this is the saddest place for a species. Near extinction means that extinction is considered inevitable, even if there are members of the species still alive. In this state, there are not enough pairs to reproduce at a rate that would revitalize the species, so it is only a matter of time before they are gone forever.
The reason for the Emperor Penguin’s likely decline is quite simple: Climate change is destroying its kingdom. Penguins prefer to breed on pack ice, ice shelves and islands in Antarctica, usually during the winter months; these locations generally provide birds with protection from predators during their breeding season. The problem, however, is that the ice is shrinking rapidly in the area. Last year, scientists discovered that the ice in Antarctica is currently melting at a rate six times faster than it was in the 1990s, and researchers warned that the frozen mass around the South Pole could be much more vulnerable to global warming than previously thought. .
As this ice clears, the penguin population loses its safe places to breed, which means it is expected to take a massive blow. This is happening in a particularly devastating way. As penguins breed in areas where the ice is less stable than before, their chicks suffer. Hunting for food becomes more difficult as the ice melts away food sources from the colonies, resulting in the death of some chicks. If the ice breaks earlier than expected, the chicks can fall through the cracks and drown because they are not yet ready to swim. Researchers have estimated that more than 10,000 baby penguins have already died this way.
Such devastating results await other occupants of the frozen tundra as well. Last year, researchers predicted an equally bleak future for polar bears across the planet, as the areas they typically occupy become increasingly untenable long-term hotbeds. With the availability of ice dwindling and food resources dwindling, experts have warned the bears will be extinct by 2100, most starving to death.
These fates are the grim reality of many species that will fall victim to climate change. Extinction does not come quietly or slowly; it is brutal, painful and slow. But it doesn’t have to be inevitable either. By taking clear action to address the climate crisis and reduce our global emissions, we can avoid further overloading species with these catastrophic results. And let’s not forget that it won’t just be the penguins who will feel this pain – the devastation of climate change will come for us too.