Global warming is on track to wipe out 70 percent of the world’s King penguins by century’s end, putting the regal birds on a path towards extinction, researchers warned Monday.
As climate change drives away the fish and squid upon which the flightless creatures depend, the penguins must swim further afield to find sustenance for their hungry hatchlings on land.
“For most colonies, the length of the summer trips by parents to get food will soon become so long that their offspring could starve while waiting,” said Celine Le Bohec, a population ecologist at the University of Strasbourg/CNRS in France and co-author of a study in Nature Climate Change.
“If global warming continues at its current pace, the species may disappear,” she told AFP.
Le Bohec and colleagues calculate that 1.1 million King penguin couples will be forced to abandon their current breeding grounds — mainly on the islands of Crozet, Prince Edward and Kerguelen — within a matter of decades.
On current trends, the planet will heat up three or four degrees Celsius compared to mid-19th century levels by 2100.
Even if humanity caps the rise of Earth’s surface temperature at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — the target set in the 197-nation Paris climate treaty — up to half of the iconic birds could be forced into exile without a clear destiniation.
The problem is that there are few suitable alternatives, creating a no-win, feed-or-breed dilemma.
“There are only a handful of islands in the Southern Ocean, and not all of them are suitable to sustain large breeding colonies,” said lead author Robin Cristofari from the Centre Scientifique de Monaco.