The US Fisheries and Wildlife Service wants to put emperor penguins on the list of endangered species: they could become extinct due to climate change.
A new study by Global Change Biology found that about 70% of all emperor penguin colonies will be in danger before 2050, and by 2100 more than 80% of the colonies will have virtually disappeared.
The authors believe that if a decision is made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, there will be enough sea ice left to support the population.
The life cycle of emperor penguins is associated with sea ice, which they need to reproduce, feed and moult.
Stephanie Genouvrier, Penguin Ecologist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
If the sea ice disappears before the young penguins swap their fluffy baby feathers for sleek adults, then the birds will not be able to swim in the cold waters and will die.
Currently, there are from 270 to 280 thousand breeding pairs of emperor penguins. In total, there are from 625 to 650 thousand individuals on Earth. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently classifies the emperor penguins as endangered.
In addition to emperor penguins, the US government has proposed adding a polar bear to the list of endangered animals.