A Daily Caller article cites an increase in the populations of two penguin species to dismiss “global warming scares” that climate change poses a dangerous threat to these animals. But the population “increases” are partially due to better census data, while penguins globally are declining and remain extremely vulnerable to global warming.
Two species of penguins appear to be increasing in population, according to recent census data: the Adélie Penguin and the Emperor Penguin (for reference, those are the two species featured in the animated movie Happy Feet). The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch trumpeted these findings as a victory against “global warming alarmists, like Al Gore,” who have “claimed that penguin populations are in deep trouble due to global warming.” Bastasch asserted: “The global population of penguins has boomed.”
Not quite. One reason for the observed population increase in Adélie and Emperor Penguins is that scientists are simply better at finding them. The scientists found that a much larger portion of the Adélie population lives in East Antarctica than previously thought, discovering 17 previously unknown colonies. This is enough to offset the decline of Adélie Penguins on the West Antarctic Peninsula, where an ice sheet is melting in warm ocean waters at a rate that in May scientists described as "unstoppable." Heather Lynch, assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University and the lead author of the study, explained in an email to Media Matters that “while the increase in abundance is real,” more accurate census data played a role.
And while one species of penguin might be increasing, several others are decreasing. Lynch noted that “many” penguin species have been declining, “particularly temperate species,” as well as chinstrap penguins which are “declining across most if not all of their range.”
Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist with the Woods Hole Institute, stated to Media Matters that several penguin species are listed as endangered; at least eight as of 2011. Jenouvrier added that their work shows that Emperor Penguins -- one of the species Bastasch cited as growing in size -- should also be listed as endangered, but that “large uncertainties have so far hampered the listing,” including the fact that it is “difficult to obtain [a] reliable estimate of [the] global population.” Research has shown how Emperor penguins are extremely vulnerable to global warming.
Ron Naveen, a scientist who has been leading the Antarctic Site Inventory project for 20 years, stated in an email to Media Matters that Bastasch's allegation that penguin populations are “booming” is “way off base”:
To suggest that Adélies are booming isn't the story, nor is it accurate. To suggest that ALL penguins globally are booming is also, way off base. The only way to know, really know, that would be to compare sat[ellite] phot[o] analyses from decades previous -- and, of course, that's not possible. The technology didn't exist back then.
The real story is that we humans now have much better tools to detect and assess change.
Scientists have been warning for years that global warming poses a critical threat for many species of penguin. Warming ocean waters and reduced sea ice cover are responsible for a major decline in the krill population, the penguins' primary food source, and sea ice loss threatens their nesting grounds. And many species are already suffering from a changed climate, with nearly 50 percent of chick deaths in the largest colony of Magellanic penguins directly attributed to global warming in one year.
Lynch stated that media “are cherry picking” her findings “for and against a climate-change story here.” This is becoming the norm at the Daily Caller, which has a history of bastardizing science to dismiss the threat of climate change.