Penguin Populations Decline, Become Poster Species for Ocean Conservation
Penguins have spent years fooling us. With their image seemingly every where we turn—entertaining us in animated films, awing us in documentaries, and winking at us in commercials—they have made most of us believe they are doing just fine; the penguin's charming demeanor has lulled us into complacency about their fate. But penguin populations are facing historic declines even as their popularity in human society rises.
Overfishing is decimating some of their prey species, climate change is shifting their resources and imperiling their habitat, meanwhile pollution, such as oil spills, are putting even healthy colonies at risk. Now, a young organization, the Global Penguin Society (GPS), is working to save all of the world's 18 penguin species by working with scientists, governments, and local communities.
"Penguins are telling us a story that we need to hear: 11 of the 18 species of penguins are listed as Vulnerable or Endangered by IUCN," Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, the President of the Global Penguin Society, told mongabay.com in a recent interview. "Penguins have particular life history traits that make them vulnerable to environmental changes. They are flightless Southern Hemisphere birds. They are long-lived, lay one or two eggs, and take several months to raise their offspring. They breed in colonies, and depend on marine food sources that are spatially and temporarily unpredictable."
These factors make penguins not only extremely sensitive to large-scale environmental changes, but also key species for monitoring the overall health of oceans. Declines among many of the penguin species over recent decades have followed wider problems in the oceans.
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Penguin image via Shutterstock.