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Planet Ark World Environment News Penguins Facing Longer Commute For Food - Expert

Date: 16-Feb-09
Country: US
Author: Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO - A penguin species found in Argentina is under threat because climate change is forcing the birds to swim farther to find food, researchers said on Thursday.

Climate change has displaced fish populations, so Magellanic penguins must swim "an extra 25 miles (40 km) further from the nest for fish," University of Washington professor Dee Boersma told reporters at the American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

While that might not sound like much, she said that while the penguins are swimming an extra 50 miles (80.4 km), their mates are sitting on a nest and starving.

"They are racing against their own physiology," Boersma told the meeting.

The penguins, which live on Argentina's Atlantic coast, are also laying their eggs three days later, she said.

"That means their breeding season is really short now and the chance of their chicks leaving at the wrong time, when there is not food out there, is getting greater and greater," she said.

Last summer, Boersma reported that the Punta Tombo colony she tracks about 1,000 miles (1,609 km) south of Buenos Aires has fallen by more than 20 percent in the past 22 years, leaving just 200,000 breeding pairs.

She said some younger penguins are now moving their breeding colonies north to be closer to fish, but, in some cases, this is putting them on private, unprotected lands.

Twelve out of 17 penguin species are experiencing rapid population declines, she said.

Boersma, who has tracked Magellanic penguins in their breeding colony for the past 25 years, said they serve as a barometer of the effects of climate change.

"They keep us abreast of what is happening, not only in the ocean, but on land," she said.

"We really have to reduce our impacts," she said. "If we don't, both penguins and humans will suffer."

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