Is global warming responsible for chinstrap penguin decline? (+video)
A population of chinstrap penguins in Antarctica has seen a 36 percent decline since 1991, in what researchers say is a consequence of declining krill populations.
A population of chinstrap penguins is feeling the heat, with more than one-third of a breeding colony lost in the past 20 years, new research finds.
A warming planet, which is causing sea ice in Antarctica (and elsewhere) to melt, may ultimately be to blame for the plummeting penguin population, the researchers said. That's because the chinstraps' main food, shrimplike creatures called krill, depend on algae that attaches to that ice.
"Actually, in the '90s it was thought that the climate change would favor the chinstrap penguin, because this species prefers sea waters without ice, unlike the Adélie penguin, which prefers the ice pack," study researcher Andres Barbosa told LiveScience. He added that at the time, chinstraps, named for the thin black facial line from cheek to cheek, seemed to increase in numbers, with some new colonies being established.
The sea-ice decline in the winter, however, has become so big that it is now impacting krill populations, said Barbosa, of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.