Penguins and Climate Change

The word  penguin  means  fat one  in Portuguese and  White head  from the Welsh s  pen gwyn.  The term also originated from  pinguis  in Latin meaning  fat,  which was originally given to the Great Auk that was hunted down to extinction. Since the Great Auk and penguins share the same anatomy, they were mistaken as the same animal by the explorers that first saw them in the Antarctic Peninsula and thus, were given the same name ( Penguin Science  2010).

Penguins are a type of flightless birds belonging to the Sphenisciformes order that thrives in the Southern Hemisphere mainly in Antarctica (but there a few species known to be living in temperate zones such as the Galpagos penguins). Instead of having wings, which are the most distinctive characteristics of birds, penguins have paddle-like flippers and a streamlined body tapered at both ends which make them very agile in the water. When not in the sea, penguins use their short legs and tail to waddle or slide across snow on their bellies (Wolf, 2009).    Penguins are very sociable animals they like to hunt and feed in groups and stay in colonies while on land. Although penguins are known to feed on squids and fishes, their infants primarily eats krill (shrimp-like crustaceans) for sustenance until maturity where their diets can include varieties of fish, squids, and other crustaceans. During breeding seasons, penguins need land-lock, frozen, rocky areas for nesting. They usually nest in large colonies called rookeries where they sometimes amass to thousands ( Sea World Parks  2010).

    The penguins are greatly threatened by the continous rise in the world temperature, this is mainly attributed on the exponential increase of greenhouse emission in the atmosphere. For the last years, the earth surface temperature has been exponentially increasing, prompting the slow melting of the polar ice caps, the penguins  natural habitat. It has also greatly contributed to the depleting food source of the animals, resulting in starvation and death. The rapid decrease in the penguins  population can also be accounted for the lack of proper breeding and nesting grounds caused by excessive snowfall and the rise of sea water level.

    The graph below shows the increment of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and its forecasted increase until the year 2100, which was predominantly caused by the Industrial Revolution. Carbon dioxide is emitted in the burning of fossil fuels and it represents 80 percent of the greenhouse gases that are directly causing global warming.

On the other hand, the graph below represents the rise in temperature for the last 140 years. While the change may seem insignificant just a few degrees in the past years it is the consistent relative rise in the warming of the ocean waters that is directly responsible for the gradual deterioration of pack of ice and glaciers on the earth s ice caps.

     Krills, which get sustenance from deep sea algae found in the depths of the ice packs, are the staple food for most species of penguins. In fact, the diet of Adlie penguins, (Adlie are the most threaten by global warming because of the rapid decrease in krills population, they exclusively inhabit the Antarctic peninsula) is 99 krills. (Wolf,  2009) However, According to the World Climate Report the gradual melting of the ice caps because of global warming has led to the diminishing population of krills, since krill larvae require sea ice to survive. The acidification of sea waters also has a great impact on the proliferation of the sea algae, which are food for the krills. Since the oceans absorb a major portion of the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere through the water cycle, carbon dioxide neutralizes the carbonate ion present in the sea water. Carbonate ion is important for the development for the outer shell (calcium base) among planktons, crabs, corals and other crustaceans . The acidification of the ocean can also cause a direct damage to the lives of penguins, it can cause poisoning which could lead to death. The continuous acidification of the ocean can be foreseen as one of the biggest threat to the survival of the penguins in the future. (Orr et al., 2005)

    Global warming also contributed to the diminishing breeding grounds for most penguins, the Emperor and Adlie penguins in particulars. The Emperor penguins need solid land-lock sea ice to rear their young until maturity or until the chicks have grown waterproof feathers. In cases where sea ice breaks before the chicks reach maturity, they are swept in the ocean where they will most likely die. Adlie penguins, on the other hand, build their nest on snow and ice free areas. However, because of excessive snowfall cause by the warm temperature (warm air can hold more moisture), it becomes nearly impossible for the penguins to find snow-free areas to lay their eggs. As a result, their reproduction becomes threatened (Wolf, 2009).

As for the penguins inhabiting the equatorial region of Galpagos Islands, desert coasts of Africa and South America, they solely depend on the movement of the cold nutrient rich sea water to bring food and sustenance. Thus, the occurrence of El Nio, a dry spell phenomenon caused by the disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific, prevents cold water from moving to the surface but instead forces warm water to move to river beds, and estuarine waters, which results in the starvation and death of penguins in this area. The Galpagos penguins have proven to be extremely vulnerable to starvation during El Nio events. Adults are forced to abandon their eggs and chicks to search for food, leaving their chicks to starve (Vargas, et al 2006).

    According to the year 2009 studies conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a 2C increase in the world temperature can result in the elimination of at least 50 of the colonies of the emperor penguins and 75 of the Adlie penguins colonies. If the emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere continues at its current rate, it will take only 40 years to make the 2C rise in the world temperature a reality. The relative escalation of sea water temperature will result in the thinning of the ice caps and water level increase that will eliminate most of the breeding and feeding grounds for the penguins. The continuous introduction of carbon dioxide to the oceans will make their water corrosive from the surface to their depths (Bracegirdle, et al 2008). The sea ice will melt exponentially and all organism and animals dependent on this ecology will cease to exist.

    Global warming would also promote the frequency of the El Nio phenomenon that would threaten the survival of the penguins inhabiting the equatorial regions. There are also other eminent threats to the survival of penguins, the most dominant of which is industrial fishing which rapidly depletes the food supply of penguins. Other potential threats to the survival of penguins include marine pollution, human disturbance to their natural habitat, diseases, and direct harvest of eggs and birds (Wolf, 2009).
    If the current rate of global warming continous, the lives and habitants of the penguins will be greatly endangered. The topic discussed on the dimishing food supply of penguins and the effects of  the El Nio phenomenon are clear indications of the future that these magnificient animals will face if we dont change our ways. It should be the personal responsibility of each one us to make sure that we do all we can to preserve the lives the penguins. The government must also impose stricter laws on industries that contribute on the pollution of the environment.The onset of the industrial revolution marked the accelerated rate on the destruction of the environment, it is only proper that these industries must now  advocate the rehabilitation and preservation of the environment.


Post a Comment