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EMPEROR PENGUIN } Aptenodytes forsteri

RANGE: Throughout coastal Antarctica; may be seen up to 56 miles inland during the breeding season

STATUS: Along with nine other penguin species, now under consideration for Endangered Species Act protection based on a 2006 Center for Biological Diversity petition

THREATS: Global warming, which causes profound changes in the Antarctic ecosystem and impacts the emperors in diverse ways — including reducing populations of prey species and causing ice shelves to collapse and icebergs to calve; also industrial fisheries, which further reduce prey availability, and human disturbance at breeding colonies

Like the polar bear in the Arctic, the emperor penguin endures extraordinary hardships to breed and nurture each new generation — fasting for months through the planet’s harshest winter weather, kept alive only by stored energy from a long-ago feed from the sea. If its poignant onshore waddle doesn’t exactly confer nobility on the emperor, its remarkable grace underwater is a stark contrast. Along with more than half of the world’s other 19 penguin species, emperors are increasingly in danger of extinction due to the fact that krill — the keystone of the Antarctic marine food chain — has declined by as much 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean.


Photo by Michael Van Woert, NOAA