Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, July 9, 2007

Contact: Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302 or (951) 961-7972 (mobile)

Ten Penguin Species March Toward Endangered Species Act Protection:
Federal Government Finds Emperor Penguin and Other Species Threatened by Global Warming

WASHINGTON— The U.S. government has announced it is advancing the emperor penguin and nine other penguin species toward protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The action comes in response to a formal administrative petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in November 2006 seeking protection for the species, as well as a June 2007 Notice of Intent to Sue the agency for failing to respond to the petition. The primary threats to penguins are global warming and industrial fisheries.

Abnormally warm ocean temperatures and diminished sea ice have wreaked havoc on penguin food availability in recent decades. Less food has led to population declines in species ranging from the southern rockhopper and Humboldt penguins of the islands off South America, and the African penguin in southern Africa, to the emperor penguin in Antarctica. The ocean conditions causing these declines have been linked by scientists to global warming and are projected to intensify in the coming decades.

The emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, which was featured in the film March of the Penguins, has declined by more than 50 percent due to global warming. Krill, the keystone of the Antarctic marine ecosystem and an essential food source not just for penguins but also for whales and seals, has declined by as much as 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean. Recent studies indicate that even under the most optimistic greenhouse gas emission scenarios, continued warming over the coming decades will dramatically affect Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic islands, the Southern Ocean, and the penguins dependent for survival on these and nearby ecosystems.

“These penguin species will march right into extinction unless greenhouse gas pollution is controlled,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center’s Climate, Air, and Energy Program. “It is not too late to save them, but we have to seize available solutions to global warming right away. I hope the penguins’ tragic plight will motivate people to support stringent greenhouse gas reductions.”

Each of the petitioned penguins also faces threats in addition to global warming, ranging from introduced predators, disease, habitat destruction, disturbance at breeding colonies, oil spills, and marine pollution to direct harvest. Many of the species are also hurt by industrial fisheries, either directly — such as when individual penguins are caught and killed in trawls, nets and longlines — or indirectly, through the depletion of essential prey species such as anchovy and krill. Similar fishing fleets figure prominently in the hit movie Happy Feet, which features two of the petitioned species, the emperor and rockhopper penguins.

“While our greenhouse emissions melt away the penguins’ world, our industrial fishing fleets are depleting the oceans of their food,” said Brendan Cummings, director of the Center’s Oceans Program. “If penguins are to survive in a world dramatically altered by global warming, we must eliminate all other threats to these wonderful creatures — first and foremost, by reforming our abysmally managed fisheries.”

Listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to penguins, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the species.

Today’s finding, to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, was made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with administering the Endangered Species Act. The Wildlife Service found listing “may be warranted” for 10 of the 12 species subject to the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition. The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to solicit public comment, carry out a thorough status review of the penguin species, and issue a proposed rule to protect the species by November. Final protection under the Act would occur within one year thereafter.

The 10 species are the emperor, southern rockhopper, northern rockhopper, Fiordland crested, erect-crested, macaroni, white-flippered, yellow-eyed, African and Humboldt penguins. Two other species, the snares crested penguin and the royal penguin, were found not to warrant Endangered Species Act protection at this time. The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin species currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Last year, in response to a similar petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, marking the first time the agency had recognized global warming as a basis for protection of an imperiled species under U.S. law.

60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue
Positive 90-Day Finding

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild lands.

Additional information, including the Wildlife Service’s finding, the petition, photos, and range maps for each species are available at

Go back