Warm and uncomfortable

Altered habitats caused by increasing temperatures are threatening penguins in Antarctica

Published: Friday 28 February 1997

The effects of a rise in temperatures are becoming increasingly evident in the Antarctic region, and the worst sufferers seem to be the local fauna. With mean temperatures having risen by 1C since 1950, the 'frozen continent' is showing subtle changes in its climate and topography, with dire consequences facing the wildlife that normally thrive in the region. Receding glaciers and milder winters are reducing pack ice which is the home and hunting ground for penguins. A small fish variety called krill, the staple diet of penguins, feeds on the plankton that gather beneath the pack ice. Warmer winters mean a lesser plankton harvest and, therefore, fewer krills. With decreasing food supply, there has been a drastic reduction in the penguin population. Researchers who have studied penguins for 20 years, report a 40 per cent drop in the population of Adelie penguins over the last eight years, while the numbers of Chinstrap penguins have fallen by over one-third.

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