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Climate change spells doom for penguins

The world's largest colony of Magellanic penguins is facing ultimate extinction according to new research conducted by Dee Boersma, University of Washington biology professor, with the support from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Washington, the Office of Turismo in Argentina's Chubut Province, and the Global Penguin Society that was published in the Jan. 29, 2014, edition of the journal Public Library of Science.

Parents can only do so much to protect chicks this big and still covered with down when it starts to rain or the sun is too hot.
D Boersma/University of Washington

Over the last 27 years the researchers have seen an average of 65 percent of penguin chicks die each year. The number of penguins that have died due to climate change has increased steadily over the period the researchers documented to reach a present level of 50 percent of all penguin chick deaths.

The major problem for the penguin chicks is increased rain. The chicks are born without the waterproof coating that keeps adult penguins from becoming waterlogged by rain or when swimming. During periods of extreme high heat the penguin chicks cannot cool off because they have not grown any waterproof feathers and die from the heat.

Rainfall has increased in the breeding grounds of the Magellanic penguins on the Atlantic coast of Argentina at Punta Tombo. Penguin chicks that can live for 25 days without being rained on have a high chance for survival but the amount of rain and the increasingly late arrival of adults to the breeding grounds accounts for expected higher death rates and eventual extinction.