Penguin decline sounds bell for potentially catastrophic changes in worlds oceans

July 1st, 2008 - 4:11 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, July 1 (ANI): The rapid population declines among penguins are sounding the alarm for potentially catastrophic changes in the worlds oceans, with climate change, oil pollution, depletion of fisheries and rampant coastline development leading to the species decline.

According to Dee Boersma, a University of Washington biology professor, Penguins are among those species that show us that we are making fundamental changes to our world.

The fate of all species is to go extinct, but there are some species that go extinct before their time and we are facing that possibility with some penguins, she said.

Boersma noted that there are 16 to 19 penguin species, and most penguins are at 43 geographical sites, virtually all in the Southern Hemisphere. But for most of these colonies, so little is known that even their population trends are a mystery.

The result is that few people realized that many of them were experiencing sharp population declines.

For example, African penguins decreased from 1.5 million pairs a century ago to just 63,000 pairs by 2005. The number of Galapagos Islands penguins, the only species with a range that extends into the Northern Hemisphere, has fallen to around 2,500 birds.

The number of Adelie and Chinstrap penguins living on the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of the continent, has declined by 50 percent since the mid-1970s.

Other species in Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, the Falklands Islands and Antarctica also have suffered significant population declines.

Penguins in places like Argentina, the Falklands and Africa run increasing risks of being fouled by oil, either from ocean drilling or because of petroleum discharge from passing ships.

The birds chances of getting oiled are also increasing because in many cases they have to forage much farther than before to find the prey on which they feed.

According to Boersma, the birds actually serve as sentinels for a radically changing environment.

She advocates a broad international effort to check on the largest colonies of each penguin species regularly at least every five years to see how their populations are faring, what the greatest threats seem to be and what the changes mean for the health of the oceans.

Counts of the penguin populations at the 43 remaining breeding hotspots, even once every five years, could provide valuable insights into the variability of the ocean ecosystem and the populations viability, according to Boersma. (ANI)

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