Some Magellanic penguin chicks wait for feeding time (credit: Dee Boersma/U of Washington)
We’re often hearing about the impact of global warming on polar bears, but now there’s evidence that climate change is killing off penguin chicks too.
Researchers at the University of Washington spent 27 years monitoring the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins along the Atlantic coast of Argentina.
They found that the amount of rainfall and the number of storms per season at this site increased over those 27 years. While water is a normal part of a penguin’s life, chicks haven’t yet developed waterproof feathers and so risk hypothermia and possibly death when exposed to storms and incessant rain.
During the study, an average of 65% of chicks died each year. Climate change is a relatively new cause of chick death, but in some years it was the most common cause, killing up to half of the chicks.
“We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season as climatologists predict,” says Dr Ginger Rebstock.
So what can be done to protect Pingu and his penguin pals?
“There may not be much we can do to mitigate climate change, but steps could be taken to make sure the Earth’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins have enough to eat,” says Prof Dee Boersma. This could be done, she says, by creating a marine protected reserve, with regulations on fishing, where penguins can forage while raising their vulnerable chicks.