Study Shows Penguins Endangered By Waning Antarctic Ice

A new study argues emperor penguins should be classified as an endangered species because of shrinking ice. NPR's Linda Wertheimer speaks with scientist Hal Caswell, who co-authored the study.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. A study published in the journal "Nature Climate Change" says, the population of Emperor penguins in Antarctica is in danger. Hal Caswell is a scientist emeritus at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He co-authored the report. And he joins us from Amsterdam. Welcome.

HAL CASWELL: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: You've been studying the Emperor penguin population in Antarctica. What's happening to them?

CASWELL: The Emperor penguin is affected by changes in the sea ice conditions. The projection is that all of the colonies - there are 45 of them known around the circumference of Antarctica. All 45 of them, by the end of the century, are going to be declining quite rapidly.

WERTHEIMER: We've all seen the wonderful pictures of the penguins sliding across the ice and diving into the water. Could you explain how the ice works for these creatures, and why climate change might affect them?

CASWELL: Yes. So this species breeds in colonies on sea ice. They make this long march from the edge of the ocean to breed in the middle of the winter. So if there's too much sea ice, that trudge to bring food to the chicks gets longer and more energetically expensive for the penguins, and this cuts down on their breeding success. On the other hand, if there's too little sea ice, then the basis of the Antarctic food web is not as productive.

WERTHEIMER: And it's your anticipation that the climate will change in such a way that the sea ice will shrink?

CASWELL: Yes.

WERTHEIMER: The Emperor penguin is actually on the list to be considered for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Would protected status help them?

CASWELL: Listing them as an endangered species would have several really positive effects. The biggest one is that it would provide more impetus to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing or halting climate change.

WERTHEIMER: You mean the penguin might become a sort of poster child for correcting the direction in which the climate is going?

CASWELL: Yes. And identifying threats to charismatic species, like the Emperor penguin, like the polar bear, is not going to be enough. But documenting threats to species like this, along with the many other impacts of climate change, is an important contribution. And it's really something that the Endangered Species Act is quite appropriate for.

WERTHEIMER: Hal Caswell is a professor at the University of Amsterdam. Thank you very much.

CASWELL: Thank you. Good to talk to you.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.