The Adelie Penguins: Birds in Peril
The Adelie penguin has been a favorite of nature lovers since we first got a glimpse of these unique creatures. From their distinctive black and white tuxedo coats to their adorable waddling gait, these wonderful birds are a real original. Unfortunately, however, the Adelie penguin is also in danger from a variety of different global threats.
Adelie Penguins are one of 17 species of penguins found in Antarctica. Smaller than the better-known Emperor penguin, Adelie penguins stand a little over two feet tall and weigh from eight to twelve pounds. They can be distinguished from other types of penguins by their black heads and white rings around their eyes, and their long tails which make them look like they are wearing tuxedos.
There are at least 38 known colonies of Adelie penguins in and around the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Each colony numbers between 100 to 250,000 pairs of birds. The total number of Adelie penguins in the region is estimated to be between 4,000,000 and 5,220,000.
Their unique tuxedo-like coloring is an adaptation for avoiding predators in the water. Their light colored bellies make the Adelie penguins less visible to sharks and whales swimming below. The darker back feathers make the penguins less visible to surface-feeding threats such as sea lions. Although Adelie penguins spend most of their time in the water hunting for food, they live and breed on the rocky shores where they are safer from their seagoing predators.
These predators, unfortunately, are not the biggest and only menace to the lovely Adelie penguins.
Global climate change, a shrinking habitat and changes in available food sources have all left these wonderful creatures in peril. Global climate change is thought to pose the biggest threat, as rising ocean water temperatures and sea levels threaten the birds’ traditional feeding grounds and wreak havoc on the sea shrimp on which they rely. Changes to the global climate pose a danger to all parts of the food chain, from the tiniest plankton to the largest land and sea based predators. The Adelie penguin is not immune to these challenges, and it has begun to show some of the first ill effects.
Rising ocean temperatures affect the penguin and its habitat in many different ways. As temperature of the water begins to rise, the amount of sea ice available starts to diminish, and this in turn causes a decrease in the amount of algae in those waters. These diminishing algae stocks are quite significant, since the krill shrimp that form the basis of the Adelie penguin diet feed on this algae. By affecting the bottom of this delicate food chain, global warming threatens all the creatures that form the rest of this delicate balance.