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Emperor penguins are now endangered due to the climate crisis, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared Tuesday, granting the species federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.
“This listing reflects the growing extinction crisis,” Martha Williams, the federal wildlife agency’s director, said in a statement. “Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world.”
The emperor penguin is the tallest and bulkiest of all the world’s penguins and is the only animal that can withstand the Antarctic winter to breed. Despite their strength, they face almost complete annihilation by the end of the century, if global warming is not drastically reduced. As temperatures continue to warm, sea ice melts and capsizes these penguins’ habitat.
The waters around and beneath the sea ice are essential to the penguins’ survival, as an area for feeding. The ice is important as well, as it’s a place for the animals to rest, breed, protect their eggs and escape from predators.
Climate change is said to be responsible for the death of the second largest known emperor colony, Halley Bay, in 2016, where more than 10,000 chicks died when sea ice broke earlier than expected. The chicks hadn’t learned to swim yet and drowned. The colony still has not recovered.
However, things could still change for the emperor penguins and other Antarctic animals.
“[Federal protections are] a big win for these beloved, iconic penguins and all of us who want them to thrive,” said Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., the Center for Biological Diversity’s climate science director. “At the same time, this decision is a warning that emperor penguins need urgent climate action if they’re going to survive. The penguin’s very existence depends on whether our government takes strong action now to cut climate-heating fossil fuels and prevent irreversible damage to life on Earth.”
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