Emperor Penguins Could Survive Global Warming, Study Indicates

The flightless fowls don't actually breed in the same place every year, scientists found to their surprise: They will move if they have to.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
An Emperor penguin that got lost and wound up on a beach in New Zealand.
An Emperor penguin that got lost and wound up on a beach in New Zealand.Credit: AP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Mankind is well on its way to causing a sixth great extinction, scientists now agree. Hunting aside, one reason for the anticipated calamity is the difficulty species are likely to have adjusting to changing environments in a warming world. Yet one species that seems born to the challenge is the majestic Emperor penguin, which does not – as previously thought – cling robotically to the same breeding ground year after year.

Emperors are the biggest of all penguins, rising to as much as 1.2 meters in height and weighing as much as a small Great Dane – a good 45 kilos. This applies to both males and females. Like its brethren penguin species, the Emperor has a white tummy but is marked by a buttery yellow chest and an orange stripe along its beak.

In winter, the towering, flightless birds waddle en masse over the icepack to their breeding colonies, which is precisely where a scientific team from the University of Minnesota had some good news.

What they found is that over three years, a group of penguins they were tracking changed the location of their breeding grounds six times. Ergo, explains lead author Michelle LaRue, they do not in fact return to the same breeding ground.

This is good news because of the warming ocean temperature is causing ice to recede, which will inevitably mean the loss of penguin breeding sites. Apparently, that won't matter to the fowls.

By the way, the scientists did not spend the Arctic winter, bodies wrapped in the f-word, heroically tracking the birds on foot. They used satellite imaging to keep an eye on the colonies.

Their first inkling of the birds' adaptability was that a colony they'd been tracking for 60 years, that was featured in the documentary "March of the Penguins," seemed to have shrunk in recent years. At first they thought the birds were dying off; then they found the "missing" ones simply relocated. And despite the changes that the warming seas are having on the northern coasts, the birds still have plenty of places to relocate to if necessary, the scientists say.

A young emperor penguin: He may prove flexible on the location of breeding.Credit: AP

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


The Orion nebula, photographed in 2009 by the Spitzer Telescope.

What if the Big Bang Never Actually Happened?

Relatives mourn during the funeral of four teenage Palestinians from the Nijm family killed by an errant rocket in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, August 7.

Why Palestinian Islamic Jihad Rockets Kill So Many Palestinians

בן גוריון

'Strangers in My House': Letters Expelled Palestinian Sent Ben-Gurion in 1948, Revealed


AIPAC vs. American Jews: The Toxic Victories of the 'pro-Israel' Lobby

Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic speaks during a press conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia in May.

‘This Is Crazy’: Israeli Embassy Memo Stirs Political Storm in the Balkans

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza.

Israel Rewards Hamas for Its Restraint During Gaza Op