The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing emperor penguins as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Credit: sandwich

Citing the threat of melting sea ice due to climate change, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  proposed listing emperor penguins (Aptenodyptes forsteri) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Given the influence that weather and climate have in affecting the extent and duration of sea ice and relatedly prey abundance around Antarctica, the effects of climate change present the most substantial threat facing the species,” the proposal stated.

Emperor penguins are endemic to Antarctica and rely on sea ice to form breeding colonies, forage for food and avoid predation. As melting ice accelerates due to climate change, the penguins will be negatively affected.

Emperor penguin populations are currently robust, according to USFWS, with approximately 61 breeding colonies around Antarctica’s coast. The total population size is estimated at 270,000-280,000 breeding pairs, or 625,000-650,000 individual birds.

The USFWS predicts that the population size will likely decrease between 26 and 47% (to between 185,000 and 132,500 breeding pairs) under low and high carbon emissions scenarios, respectively. Those decreases would put the species “in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future in a significant portion of its range,” according to the agency. The species is currently listed as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List.

The USFWS maintains a list of threatened and endangered foreign species that all have ranges entirely outside the United States. Currently, there are over 600 species on that list, including eight other species of penguins. Under the ESA, the UFSWS manages and regulates the import, export, take and some commerce (interstate and foreign) of those species through a permitting system to help ensure the conservation of the species.

Recent legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress would prohibit the USFWS from listing additional foreign species under the ESA, limiting future international conservation activities. That bill was introduced in February and referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, but no further action has been taken.

The USFWS will accept public comments on the listing proposal until Oct. 4.

Read TWS’ Standing Position on Threatened and Endangered Species in the U.S. and Position Statement on the U.S. Endangered Species Act

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura’s articles.


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