By 2100, almost the entire emperor penguin population could die out due to rapidly melting ice, suggests research published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.
The study found that 98 percent of the colonies of emperor penguins could be gone in the next 80 years if ice melt continues at its current pace. About 70 percent of colonies could die off by 2050, the research adds.
The study notes that emperor penguins rely on sea ice for survival, including to breed on, hunt for food, use for protection and rest, and to molt on. The effect of sea ice loss on penguin populations was already seen in 2016 when extremely low levels of sea ice caused a massive breeding failure of an emperor penguin colony in Antarctica, according to The Associated Press.
"Variations in sea ice concentration affect the survival and reproduction of emperor penguins both directly (e.g., early fast sea ice breakup can jeopardize chick survival) and indirectly through the food web," reads the study.
Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, echoed those concerns.
"These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat," she said, according to the AP.
Uhlemann's comments reflect the U.S. government's consideration of adding the emperor penguin to its list of threatened species, which typically only includes animals within the country.
If the classification is put into place, the emperor penguin would receive protections, including banning the importation of the birds for commercial purposes, notes the AP.