Climate Change Threatens To Kill 1.6 Million Breeding Pairs Of King Penguins By 2100

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A new study revealed that climate change will make conditions worse for the king penguins in Antarctica. By the end of the century, 70 percent of them must relocate or else they will die.  ( Junko Kimura | Getty Images )

As the threat of climate change escalates, king penguins around Antarctica will have a difficult choice to make: move or die.

The Impending Doom For King Penguins

A study published on Monday, Feb. 27, in Nature Climate Change revealed that if climate change models continue to develop at their current pace, the results could be disastrous for 1.6 million king penguins. Roughly 70 percent of king penguin breeding pairs would be forced to relocate by the end of the century.

Failure for these king penguins to relocate away from their homes in islands around Antarctica would likely result in death.

"If global warming continues at its current pace, the species may disappear," Celine Le Bohec, co-author of the study and scientist from the University of Strasbourg, told Agence France Presse.

A Shattered Ecosystem

Most scientists consider greenhouse gas emissions from humans as the main cause behind the melting polar ice caps and the disappearing Arctic sea. This entire process is warming the oceans and endangering animals like king penguins across the planet.

Unlike other species of penguins, these animals typically avoid living on ice-based lands. Although melting ice doesn't directly impact king penguins, it does impact their food chain.

Their main source of food is fish. When climate change warms up the ocean, the fish will move further south to colder water. Adult king penguins will be forced to swim farther just to reach their food.

With adult king penguins traveling to new places to get their food, their offspring will be left alone longer. This decreases the king penguins' chances of setting up an established mating colony. It also increases the chances of their offspring perishing.

What Can Be Done To Help The King Penguin Population

Greenhouse gas emissions are the main culprit behind the eventual demise of the king penguins. In order to save these animals, humans need to make some serious changes.

"If no actions aiming at halting or controlling global warming, and the pace of the current human-induced changes — climate change, overfishing — stay the same, the species may disappear in the near future," Le Bohec added.

The scientists also admit that there is a chance that the king penguins might survive their changing ecosystem if they colonize other nearby islands to get more fish. The problem, however, is that the pace of change might prove to be too much for the king penguins to handle.

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