WASHINGTON — With climate change threatening the sea ice habitat of Emperor penguins, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced a proposal to list the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Emperor penguins currently number fewer than 300,000 breeding pairs and require stable sea ice to survive and raise chicks.
Research published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology found that by 2100, 98% of Emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction if no changes are made to current rates of carbon emissions.
About 70% of those colonies could be in danger as soon as 2050, the study says.
Global Change Biology noted that there's already evidence that climate change is putting penguins at risk. Low levels of sea ice in 2016 led to a massive breeding failure of an Emperor penguin colony in Halley Bay in Antarctica. That's because seasonal ice broke up before penguin chicks grew large enough to grow waterproof feathers, leading to 10,000 baby penguins drowning.
Listing Emperor penguins as a threatened species would provide them certain protections, like being imported into the country for commercial purposes.
"These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat," said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.
According to FWS, the Emperor is the tallest and heaviest penguins species on Earth, growing up to nearly four feet tall and weighing up to 90 pounds.