Like the polar bear on the opposite pole, the emperor penguin endures almost unfathomable hardships to breed and nurture each new generation — fasting for months through the planet’s harshest winter weather, sustained only by stored energy from a long-ago feed from the sea. If its onshore waddle doesn’t exactly confer nobility on the emperor, its remarkable underwater grace surely does. Yet this extraordinary bird faces new and extraordinary pressures — most ominously, the rapid acceleration of global warming. And the emperor is not alone: more than half of the world’s 19 penguin species are in danger of extinction since krill, the keystone of the Antarctic marine food chain, has declined by as much 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean. The chief culprit: global warming. Many penguin species also compete with industrial fisheries for food, and their survival and reproduction rely on a delicate balance, to which a single disruption can become catastrophic.
Determined to keep global warming from finally tipping the odds too heavily against the survival of the planet’s penguins, the Center filed a scientific petition in 2006 to gain Endangered Species Act protection for 12 of the most imperiled penguin species. In July 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that 10 species — the emperor, erect-crested, Fiordland crested, white-flippered, macaroni, Humboldt, African, yellow-eyed, and northern and southern rockhopper penguins — may warrant federal protection. But the Service missed its deadline to actually bestow that protection on any of the petitioned-for penguins, prompting the Center to file suit in February 2008 to compel the agency to take action. In December 2008, the Service proposed protection for seven species — the African, yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland crested, Humboldt, erect-crested, and southern rockhopper penguins — but denied it for three — the emperor, macaroni, and northern rockhopper penguins. The next fall, we and Turtle Island Restoration Network warned we’d sue to protect emperor and rockhopper penguins. And when the Service still hadn’t moved forward on protecting seven of the penguins it found might warrant listing, we gave notice of another suit if the delay continued.
We’re also on the frontlines of the fight for sounder, saner state and national climate policy and the swift, dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to curb global warming.