Penguins’ Survival At Stake, There are serious changes taking place here at the bottom of the world. Increasingly, experts say, the ice is disappearing at a disturbing rate in the Antarctic Peninsula and that in turn impacts the future — and perhaps the very existence — of at least half of the world’s 18 penguin species, who depend on ice and frigid waters that support krill, the penguin diet mainstay. “When cheetahs or lions get hunted, or elephants decline, there’s a big uproar. And I think, because you see penguins in large numbers [in some places] people are ignoring the larger rate of their decline,” said Oxford University penguinologist Tom Hart. “The general public doesn’t realize the penguins are declining so fast.” But it’s not just the penguins we have to worry about, Hart says, it’s the health of the planet itself. “The last wilderness on Earth is impacted by us now,” he said, describing the region’s decline as a “grave indicator” of what’s to come. It’s the end of the breeding cycle for most penguins here as summer comes to a close.
The Gentoos, Adelies and Chinstraps are nudging their newborns from the rocks of Antarctica’s peninsula toward the waters of the Southern Ocean. Experts say about 50 percent of the eggs will produce a penguin chick that makes it to sea. And about half of those will survive the hungry predators below, as they plunge into the frigid waters for their first swim. Leopard seals are lurking — and for the newborns, avoiding their mortal enemy is not easy. Many will die. Those that do survive are subject to climate change that is threatening their food supply. Hart has spent nearly a decade studying the creatures that have captured the world’s imagination for centuries. Each year, for three to four months, he positions himself along the Antarctic coast to observe, measure and chart penguin colonies. Some colonies have been followed since polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men headed here some 100 years ago.