Emperor Penguins Officially Declared a Threatened Species — What to Know

"Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world."

Emperor penguin with chicks, Aptenodytes forsteri, Snow Hill Island, Antartic Peninsula, Antarctica

Raimund Linke/Getty Images

Emperor penguins have been officially declared a threatened species due to the impact of climate change on their habitat.

The adorable flightless birds, which live in Antarctica, were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday. The listing aims to prevent the emperor penguins from reaching extinction. 

The impact of climate change on their sea-ice habitat is the “primary threat” to the emperor penguins, according to the agency.

“This listing reflects the growing extinction crisis and highlights the importance of the ESA and efforts to conserve species before population declines become irreversible,” service director Martha Williams said in a statement. “Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world and addressing it is a priority for the Administration. The listing of the emperor penguin serves as an alarm bell but also a call to action.”

Currently, the Fish and Wildlife Service said emperor penguin populations remain stable with about 61 breeding colonies existing along the coastline of Antarctica with an estimated 625,000 to 650,000 emperor penguins in the world. But experts have predicted their population size could decrease by anywhere from 26% to 47% by 2050.

Climate change is especially threatening to emperor penguins who live in the Indian Ocean, Western Pacific Ocean, Bellingshausen Sea and Amundsen Sea. There, colonies are projected to decline by more than 90% due to melting sea ice, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared 23 species extinct, including the Ivory-billed woodpecker, which was America's largest woodpecker and had been listed as endangered since 1967. Since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, more than 50 species have been removed from the list due to species recovery and over 50 more have been moved from "endangered" to "threatened."

Emperor penguins primarily found in the Ross and Weddell Seas in Antarctica, but a few exist in captivity. Visitors to SeaWorld San Diego, for example, can catch a glimpse of these majestic animals along with smaller penguin species: king, adelie, gentoo, chinstrap, and macaroni penguins. The emperor is the largest of all penguin species and stands nearly four feet tall.  

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