World Penguin Day: Overfishing and climate change impacts penguin populations

World Penguin Day is celebrated on the 25th April every year. This coincides roughly with the start of the annual northward migration of the five Antarctic species of penguins.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The State Of Antarctic Penguins 2017 report, released today by non-profit organisation Oceanites, calculated the number of penguins in Antarctica at 12 million. The report uses satellite technology to help assess the bird numbers over huge areas and across seasons.

Adélie and chinstrap penguin numbers in Antarctica have declined rapidly over the last few years. As global warming has affected the ice caps where the birds live, they are particularly vulnerable.

Outside of the Antarctic, penguin populations are not faring that much better. Twelve out of the 18 penguin species in the world are facing population decline. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, 10 of the 18 are either endangered or vulnerable.

In South Africa, penguin population has fallen by 70 per cent in the last twelve years. Penguins complete with commercial fisherman and as sardines and anchovies stocks are depleted they struggle to feed their young.

Overfishing, especially dragnet fishing to make fishmeal that goes on to feed farmed salmon, chickens and other livestock affects many marine species. The decline in penguin numbers is yet another side effect of the emptying of the oceans.

​Glynn Davies, WWF’s executive director of global programmes, said: “The decline of species is reaching a critical point and we cannot ignore the role of unsustainable livestock production.“If nature is to recover, we need to work together and encourage sustainable farming systems which will limit pollution, reduce habitat loss and restore species numbers.”

Penguins live across the Southern Hemisphere from the southern Australian coast to the Galapagos Islands and Peru. They occupy a huge variety of habitats from the extreme frozen wastelands of Subantarctic Islands to urbanised beaches in South Africa and forests in New Zealand. Penguins are one of the most popular species of birds, they have a friendly nature and a cuddly appearance. Zoos and popular culture have kept them in the forefront of the public’s imagination from Chilly Willy in the 1950s to Happy Feet.  

However the threat of environmental destruction, including oil spills and illegal egg harvesting threatens all species of penguins. With World Penguin Day 2017, WWF, Bird Life Europe and Compassion in World Farming hope to highlight the impact humans have on these birds and other marine species.