King Penguins' habitat threatened by global warming: study

Failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change, by the end of the century, could see 70 per cent of king penguins needing to either find a new home or die, according to new research.

King penguins inhabit islands scattered throughout the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica.

The birds depend on lanternfish, squids, and krill in the waters circling the continent. They can swim 310 kilometres into the waters for their food.

However, according to projections of climate models this food belt will move closer and closer to the South Pole, forcing the penguins to swim farther to catch their meals and by 2100, the penguins are expected to migrate to other islands or as many as 70 per cent of them could disappear, according to a study published yesterday in Nature Climate Change.

''Wow,'' says Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota, who was not part of the study. ''That's not something I would have expected,'' The Verge reported.

Unlike their closest relatives, the emperor penguin, king penguins do not live on sea ice, rather they only live on ice-free islands. In a warming world, therefore, one would expect penguins that do not need ice to breed to fare just fine, LaRue told The Verge.

"The species may disappear," study co-author Celine Le Bohec, a scientist at the University of Strasbourg, told Agence France Presse.

The king penguin is among several threatened species of penguins in Antarctica. Earlier studies had revealed that other species, such as the emperor, Adelie and chinstrap are also in danger of extinction or severe population loss due to climate change.

What is also a greater problem is that the penguins cannot move with the fish. "The main issue is that there are only a handful of islands in the Southern Ocean and not all of them are suitable to sustain large breeding colonies," said study co-author Robin Cristofari, also of the University of Strasbourg.