On our Earth, we are graced with many fantastic life forms. From those gliding through the heavenly skies, to those at the deepest depths of the oceans, there is a plethora of various species.
A group of these, though, is like a diamond in the rough. While many people admire its beauty, they have yet to realize that it’s the love for them that is dwindling its population. Who are these magnificent creaturesnone other then the penguins. Just about everyone’s seen a penguin, whether it be on TV, in a magazine, or at a zoo. This is because of the fact that penguins are highly saturated in the media and various industries.
Think of Penguin Books or the Pittsburgh Penguins. All the cartoons you’ve seen with penguins in them. Unfortunately, due to mounting and continuing problems, penguins are in danger of becoming extinct. There may be a day were penguins won’t be in any media, simply because there won’t be anymore.
Though one may have heard of news supporting them, or funds helping them, this crackdown is seemingly not helping as much as it needs to. In order for one to understand the danger possessed by penguins, a background of the species and evolution is necessary. The impact people have on penguins is mostly destructive, and the future possibilities are gloomy if things don’t change. The endangerment of penguins is being perpetuated by human actions and these actions must cease for penguins to stay alive. Simply saying penguins are endangered is not suffice.
There are many kinds of penguins, each having its own status of vulnerability and danger. Just like all other living things, penguins have a Scientific Classification. Theirs is as follows. The class they are in is the Aves. This class includes all birds. The Order they are in is called the Sphenisciformes, followed by the only Family under it, the Spheniscide.
Both of these include all penguins, living and extinct. Moving down, the only point with variation is that of the species. Most scientists agree that there are seventeen species of penguins, with a select few recognizing eighteen instead. (del Hoyo, 1992). See Chart A The largest penguin is the Emperor Penguin, standing four feet tall and one hundred pounds.
The smallest is the aptly named Little Penguin, only one foot tall and three pounds. (Ainley, 2000). For the Emperor Penguin, the status of its population is moderately stable, with some localized fluctuations, while the Little Penguin has a generally stable status. It goes without saying that although these two types of penguins do not offer the ideal image of penguins in need,’ there are the many species other then these two that suffer. Thanks to qualitative studies, many of these species can be identified because of the distinctive markings and colorations each posses.
These markings separate each other from the inherent black and white contrasting colors. The King Penguin, for instance, has a black head, chin and throat with vivid orange ear patches. The Adelie, a very common penguin, has distinguishing white eye rings during the breeding season. In other words, the features on the head and neck distinguish the various species. Although there are distinctive markings on the different species, on the level of males and females there is none. This therefore makes penguins not sexually dimorphic.
(Marchant, 1990). One of the reasons for penguins being in danger is simply because they are a rarity. Unlike dogs, rabbits, and other animals found throughout the world, the penguin is confined to the southern Hemisphere (Ainley, 2000). In fact, most ornithologists consider penguins distinct from all other living birds.
The closest relatives are the procellariiformes. These include the Tube-nose swimmer, Albatross and others. The reason for the relation between the two is because the Trachea is divided lengthwise in both species. (Grzimk, 1968). There are also DNA studies that suggest a relationship with the frigatebirds. (del Hoyo, 1992).
Throughout history, penguins have been limited to the Southern Hemisphere. All the prehistoric penguin fossils have been found there. (Sparks and Soper, 1987) See Chart B. So why, then, did penguins evolve. For the same reason other living things evolve for, to adapt. Some forty million years ago penguins probably evolved from flying birds because they lived separately from land mammals for millions of years.
(Davis and Darby, 1990) They had to adapt to a challenging marine environment so their wings eventually evolved to function more like flippers. Because of the arctic temperatures they were exposed to, they had to become heavier, and this was at the expense of flight. (Grzimk, 1968). It is this expense of flight that makes penguins more susceptible to predators, for they do not have the luxury of simply flying away. Seeing the troubles they faced after adapting to an oceanic environment, some of them eventually become extinct. But it is essential that we do not let history repeat itself.
Scientists believe that the extinction of ancient penguins began when the number of prehistoric seals and small whales started to increase in the oceans. It is hypothesized that all these mammals started competing for the same food source and by doing so depleted food. (Simpson, 1976). Nowadays, food is not the only obstacle they most overcome.
One of the biggest setbacks for them is humans. Though people love penguins, the reason for why we love them is the reason for why they are in danger. In general, penguins are considered the most social bird of all. (del Hoyo, 1992). This is because they have few land predators, so they naturally have little fear for humans. By being so friendly, they open up an easy job for hunters and egg gatherers.
By the turn of the century, egg gatherers had collected over thirteen million African Penguin eggs in the Cape Islands off the coast of South Africa. Their friendliness also made them easy for explorers to catch. Explorers have been known to kill and salt three thousand penguins in a day for voyage supplies. (Simpson, 1976) Unfortunately, eggs aren’t the only thing society wants from them. There skin is considered “highly fashionable,” so much so, that in the 1980’s one Japanese company called upon the international group that governs Antarctica permission to harvest penguins.
And for what? For high fashion golf gloves, slippers and purses. There are many other purposes for which people have tried to use penguins for too. One current example is using poop from the Humboldt penguin as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. (Sparks and Soper, 1987). Too this day, penguins are considered good for turning into oil (the very product, by the way, that can kill them).
In 1867, one company killed four hounded and five thousand penguins for oil in the Falkland Islands. This one slaughter put the King Penguins on the brink of extinction on these islands. It is unfortunate that all these are human actions, but because they are they can be stopped. We must look into the future for what lies ahead.
And what we see is grim if our actions don’t change. Even though the penguins most at risk are the ones near temperate, human populated zones, the ones far off thousands of miles away from civilization are at risk too. Things like global warming, a human induced product, affect penguins everywhere, even more so for ones that live in Antarctica. Dee Boersma, a biologist at the University of Washington says, “Most recent changes in penguin distribution suggest that climate change is probably one of the greatest threats to penguins.” It is known that global warming affects many other things negatively, so improving on the situation would have far encompassing effects.
But for penguins, though, the effect would be pronounced. For example, on one island the number of Rockhopper Penguins dropped from one point seven million in 1940 to one hundred thousand today. If the decrease of penguins were to continue at this rate, then in just four years, the population of penguins on this island would be diminished to nothing. The reason for this is postulated to be because of warmer seas.
As one can see it is of the utmost importance to stop global warming. Researcher Wayne Trivelpiece agrees with this notion, stating that he believes that the reason for a twenty year decline of the Adelie Penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula is because of increased sea temperatures. These conditions must be stopped with many others. Harmless activities such as flying over penguin colonies can startle them causing panic and stampede.
(del Hoyo, 1992). One startling discovery was that traces of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) were found in tissues of Adelie penguins. This is significant because it means that toxic substances have finally reached the pristine waters of the Antarctic, capable of debilitating many animals there. The number one threat to penguins is humans.
The acts of many people may seem noble, but there are still devious people wreaking much damage to the livelihood of penguins. It is understandable that some efforts, such as global warming, may take time to fix. But other, imminent dangers can be stopped. If people want to continue the tradition of going to the zoo and seeing these elegant creatures dressed in tuxedos or viewing pictures of them in all their splendor, then changes must be made.
Rules must be made, and public awareness increased. Gerald Kooyman of the University of California says that the public fondness should strengthen protection efforts. We can only hope that future generations have the incomparable ability to view these entities, as creatures of the earth, not creatures of the imagination. Works Cited Ainley, David. “Penguins.” The World Book Encyclopedia. Volume 15.
Chicago: World Book Inc, 2000. Davis, Lloyd S. and John T Darby. Penguin Biology. San Diego: Academic Press, Inc., 1990. del Hoyo, Josep, Andrew Elliott and Jordi Sargatal.
Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol 1, Ostrich to Ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1992. Dr. Dr.
h.c. Grzimk, Bernhard. “The Penguins.” Animal Life Encyclopedia. Volume 7, Birds I. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1968.
Marchant, S. and P.J. Higgins. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1990. Name Unknown.
“Nature. The World of Penguins.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/penguins/resources.html Pasquier, Roger. “Penguin.” Encyclopedia Americana. Volume 21. Connecticut: Grolier Inc, 1998. Simpson, George Gaylord.
Penguins: Past and Present, Here and There. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1976. Sparks, John and Tony Soper. Penguins. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1987.