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For Immediate Release, November 28, 2011

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Emperor Penguins

Melting Sea Ice Threatens Penguins; Reality Echoes Happy Feet Two Plot

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for emperor penguins threatened by global warming. Emperors are the most ice-dependent of all penguin species, threatened by the loss of their sea-ice habitat as well as declining food availability wrought by the warming ocean off Antarctica. Their populations are declining because of global warming; some colonies have entirely disappeared.

“The sea-ice habitat that emperor penguins need to survive is melting beneath their feet,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “It’s great to see movies like Happy Feet Two bringing the plight of emperor penguins to people around the world. But in reality, there’s no happy Hollywood ending for these penguins unless we take real action to address the global climate crisis.” 

Emperor penguins need sea ice for breeding and foraging. Today’s petition highlights the serious problems of melting sea ice and other warming-driven changes in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Areas of Antarctica are experiencing dramatic warming, leading to loss of sea ice as well as the collapse of ice sheets.

In 2006, the Center filed a petition to list 12 penguin species as threatened or endangered. The Interior Department conducted status reviews for 10 of those species. After delays and ultimately a court order, the agency protected seven species but denied protection for the remaining ones, including the emperor. Today’s petition presents new scientific information demonstrating that emperor penguins are imperiled.

“Emperor penguins are icons of wild Antarctica,” said Sakashita. “And protecting them under the Endangered Species Act is essential to their survival.”

Listing under the Endangered Species Act would provide broad protection to these penguins, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized or funded by the U.S. government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the penguin species. For example, if penguins are listed, future approval of fishing permits for U.S.-flagged vessels operating on the high seas would require analysis and minimization of impacts on the listed penguins. The Act also has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas pollution by compelling federal agencies to look at the impact of the emissions generated by their activities on listed species.

Emperor penguins are the world’s largest penguin species, capable of growing nearly four feet tall. They range throughout coastal Antarctica and travel each spring to inland breeding sites. Near the beginning of summer, adult penguins and their chicks return to the sea and spend the rest of the summer feeding there.

For more information on penguins and a link to the federal petition, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/index.html

For a link to photos of emperor penguins, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/press_photos.html

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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