• The Plight of the Penguin-Endangered Species

    Posted by Melissa Barnhouse on 4/22/2016 1:30:00 PM

    Plight of the Penguins

    Stars of Happy Feet face decline in population as Antarctic climate warms

    Emperor penguin Adults and chick, Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctic Peninsula. (Photo: ©WWF/FRITZ PÖLKING)
    Emperor penguin Adults and chick, Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctic Peninsula. (Photo: ©WWF/FRITZ PÖLKING) 

     

    The majestic Emperor penguins, stars of the movie Happy Feet, are facing a serious decline in population. As the climate of their home on the Antarctic Peninsula gets warmer, the ice on which the penguins raise their chicks is literally melting away.

    The Emperors are not the only penguin population under pressure. Chinstraps, Gentoos, and Adélie are all finding themselves pushed into a smaller area as arctic sea ice melts. Many colonies have decreased in population by 50 percent, according a report released this week by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

    The report, Antarctic Penguins and Climate Change, also cites diminishing food supply as a reason for the decline in the penguins' population. The decrease in sea ice and overfishing in the area have led to a reduced number of krill—crustaceans that are the main food source for Chinstrap penguins. Increased competition for food makes it difficult for young penguins to survive.

    ". . .it seems these icons of the Antarctic will have to face an extremely tough battle to adapt to the unprecedented rate of climate change," says Anna Reynolds, Deputy Director of WWF's Global Climate Change Program.

    Too hot, too soon

    Scientists believe the Antarctic Peninsula is warming five times faster than the average rate of global warming. Warmer winter temperatures and stronger winds mean that the penguins have had to raise their chicks on increasingly thinner sea ice. Because temperatures are warming sooner than ever, sea ice breaks off earlier in the penguins' breeding season. Many eggs and chicks have been blown away before they were ready to survive on their own.

    Adelie penguins
    Adelie penguins, Petermann Island, Antarctic Peninsula. (Photo: WWF-Canon/Sylvia RUBLI)

    "Having just returned from the Antarctic, I've witnessed what is happening to the penguins there," says Dr. Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist of WWF's Global Climate Change Program.

    "The warming climate means warmer, wetter air and too much snow at the wrong time of year. Penguins have to wait for snow to melt and they are breeding later—much too late," she added. Hansen believes the competition for territory and food among the different species is "a recipe for disaster."

    As WWF released its report on Monday, Dr. Hansen made a plea to the leaders meeting at the United Nations Climate Conference in Bali, Indonesia, this week. "The delegates. . . have a chance to protect Antarctica's penguins and many other species, but they must act now," she said.

    The UN conference in Bali will come to an end on Friday. Negotiations over a new agreement on global warming have been the central focus, and reports say the debate has been intense. The European Union is pushing for an agreement that contains specific limits on the amount of pollutants that can be released into the environment by automobiles, factories, and power plants. The U.S. delegation is reluctant to enter into such an agreement at this time, and believe more negotiation is needed.

    CLIMATE CHANGE

    Are you interested in how environmental changes affect the world? Let Scholastic News Online be your guide! Learn about what Kid Reporters are saying about the changing climate by reading their articles in this special report.

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  • Balancing Act: The Life of an Emperor Penguin

    Posted by Melissa Barnhouse on 4/22/2016 1:00:00 PM

    Balancing Act

    The life of an emperor penguin

    By Jeffrey Rambo | November 17 , 2006 http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=8052
    (Photo: Jérôme Maison. © 2005 Bonne Pioche Productions / Alliance De Production Cinématographique.)
    (Photo: Jérôme Maison. © 2005 Bonne Pioche Productions / Alliance De Production Cinématographique.) 

     

    Year after year, emperor penguins of Antarctica set out on a journey. They march across the ice as far as 70 miles. Why do emperor penguins travel so far? One of the main reasons the penguins march these great distances is to raise their families.

    Before their journey can begin, the penguins first feed on large amounts of fish. Since they will be walking for miles away from water, they will not be able to eat. So, the penguins must store up as much fish as possible.

    When the penguins first leave the water after weeks of eating, they are as large as they will ever get. Their bellies full of fish, the penguins hit the ice. 

    Their long trek begins around late fall or early winter. Temperatures range from minus 4 to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Under their feathers, it can be much warmer--86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Their feathers are only half an inch thick, but offer a great deal of warmth.

    Emperor penguins might march single file for over a week. The penguins hike to find an area of stable ice. The spot they choose must remain solid for long enough—until their chicks hatch and are able to enter the water. 

    “They are breeding and rearing their young on ice that will melt come summer,” said Paul Ponganis, a scientist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego.

    After laying her single egg, the female travels back to the sea to feed. The male’s challenge on this patch of ice is to protect the egg. He takes care of the egg and keeps it warm through the harsh, frigid winter. The male emperor's movement is limited, as he balances the egg on his feet for two months until it hatches.

     

    Penguins
    (Photo: Frans Lanting/Corbis)

    To survive the raging winds and extreme winter temperatures, the male penguins gather in a group huddle. This keeps them from 20 to 30 degrees warmer.

    “They’re toasty,” said Barbara Wienecke, a biologist at the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston, Australia.

    The chick is born around the beginning of August, and the mother returns with fish to feed the newborn. After months without food, the male is finally free to go back to the ocean to eat. The pair will take turns feeding the chick for five months.

    In the summer, the ocean begins to break apart the ice. The baby chicks discover they must learn to swim and enter the water for the first time. The long march is officially over—until next winter.

    March of the Penguins, the 2006 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, will air on national television for the first time on the Hallmark Channel, Saturday, November 25.

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    1. How do you feel about what is happening to penguins?

    2. What are some causes for the changes in penguin habitat?

    3. What can you do to help the situation?

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