January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day. Is there a better time to celebrate these magnificent birds and learn about all they're struggling to overcome than on this day?
There have been distressing headlines out of Antarctica this month. Researchers reported that warmer temperatures are melting the traditional breeding grounds of emperor penguins, forcing at least one colony to climb 100-foot walls of ice and driving them farther from the sea, their only source of food, according to Eric Pooley of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
Consider, for a moment, the continent of Antarctica – an aquamarine world of ice, snow, and water – and the incredible animals that make their home there, like the Adélie penguins.
“The Adélie penguins are charming birds that swim like porpoises, paddle like ducks and wobble upright onto the beach like drunken wedding guests,” said Pooley after his visit to Antarctica. “Their nesting grounds were full of noise, motion, and life. But science tells a more troubling story.”
What Mr. Pooley is referring to is that the Adélie colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula are dwindling as the number of breeding pairs drop and the average weight of the fledglings fall. Many underweight fledglings go off to sea and never return.
Like emperor penguins, they are struggling to adapt. Adélies need to hunt from the sea ice, and that ice is disappearing from the Peninsula in summer. The Adélie populations are shifting south, to bays that used to be too icy in summer but now have the right mix of ice, open water, and snow-free beach. But there is a limit to how far the Adélie can move: They need winter light to hunt, and below the Antarctic Circle, it’s just too dark for that.
Unless humans stop pumping millions of tons of climate pollution into our thin atmosphere, climate change will unrelentingly hunt down these birds. Even more troubling: the Adélie and emperor penguins aren't alone. There over 15 species of penguins, each facing their own threats and struggling to adapt in a race for survival.
To honor Penguin Awareness Day, check out the slideshow above. It combines stunning photography of these amazing birds with the details of their efforts to survive.
(Amanda Carlucci has her finger on the pulse of the green movement. Stay up to date on the latest in green activism. You CAN make a difference. Be a part of the movement, and click here to subscribe. It's anonymous and free!)