Apart from the Galapagos penguin nearly all penguins live south of the equator. The bid cannot fly but is able to swim under water at up to 15 miles per hour. In order to do this their wings have been adapted to act like flippers. The penguins live in a variety of climates ranging from the Antarctic to the Equator. Penguins are not large birds with their sizes varying between 15 inches and 3 and a half feet. Their favourite food is squid, shrimp and fish, with their black and white colouring working as camouflage under water.
Penguins are the most common bird in the Antarctic. The two species that survive in the region are the Emperor and the Adelie penguins. There are abundant numbers at the moment but there is much conjecture about their future especially with global warming. The penguins live in colonies with some the size of major cities. According to a survey by the University of Adelaide there are 6 million Adelie penguins surviving in the region which is 4 million higher than had been previously estimated.
Penguins have always been threatened by human activity in the region. Many have been caught in trawlers nets and have ended up drowning, but the future of a warming climate holds many problems for the survival of the Antarctic’s most popular bird. One major worry is that the warming of the sea in the Western Antarctic Peninsular is happening faster than in any other place on the planet. This is likely to result in the disappearance of the sea ice which provides a habitat for huge numbers of these birds.
The penguins eat Krill and they feed off an algae called phytoplankton that grows on the sea ice. If the ecosystem is disturbed, and the ice disappears there will be short supplies of the algae which will result in fewer Krill resulting in fewer penguins. The area is also seeing bigger populations of whale and fur seal populations since the international hunting bans have come into force. They both feed off krill and penguins, so with their numbers growing the penguins have a double problem. Firstly, the seals and the whale are reducing Krill populations, and also more of the penguins are being hunted themselves.
The threat of melting ice will likely cause waterlogged conditions during the mating season. This is likely to have catastrophic consequences on the chicks as they will be susceptible to hypothermia before they develop water proof feathers. One species of penguin that is currently threatened is the Galapagos Penguin. There are fewer than 2000 in the wild and they are only able to survive as a result of the Antarctic Humboldt Current that flows around the Island.
However, in recent years the species numbers have been threatened by a variety of factors. One of its biggest problems is that as the smallest member of the Penguin family it is hunted by a number of predators. It is hunted by cats, crabs, snakes, owls and hawks on the dry land, while in the sea they have to beware of sharks, fur seals and sea lions. They have also suffered from the changes in weather patterns associated with the El Nino weather phenomenon, and diseases that have been brought into the area by dogs.
The future warming seas are likely to affect their environment further as the Antarctic Humboldt Current is likely to be affected and warmed. The future for all penguins is dependent on the weather and the climate, as global warming could have dire consequences for this flightless bird.