Emperor penguins get Endangered Species Act protection – with 98% of colonies at risk of extinction by 2100, can it save them?

Emperor penguins thrive on Antarctica’s coastlines in icy conditions any human would find extreme. Yet, like Goldilocks, they have a narrow comfort zone: If there’s too much sea ice, trips to bring food from the ocean become long and arduous, and their chicks may starve. With too little sea ice, the chicks are at risk of drowning.

Climate change is now putting that delicate balance and potentially the entire species at risk.

In a recent study, my colleagues and I showed that if current global warming trends and government policies continue, Antarctica’s sea ice will decline at a rate that would dramatically reduce emperor penguin numbers to the point that almost all colonies would become quasi-extinct by 2100, with little chance of recovering.

That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule on Oct. 26, 2022, listing the emperor penguin as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, effective Nov. 25, 2022. The director of the service said the listing “reflects the growing extinction crisis.”