Global Penguin Conservation

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They’ve brought home Academy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and even a few Stanley Cups for Pittsburgh’s hockey team—all while clad in their famous tuxedos. Known to scientists by the family name Spheniscidae, to the rest of the world they are simply the charismatic penguin. Although they have widespread appeal, many penguin populations are in trouble. And ironically, their biggest fans—humans—are largely the cause.

The Southern Hemisphere is home to 18 species of penguin. They vary in size and appearance, based largely on the climate and geography of their habitat. These aquatic birds can be as large as the 75-pound, 4-foot-tall emperor penguin of Antarctica or as small as the 2-pound, 16-inch little blue of Australia and New Zealand. But despite their differences, all penguins have a few common characteristics. Although flightless, they are expert swimmers and can dive deep and travel long distances underwater. And their distinctive black-and-white coloring that looks like formal wear is countershading that protects them from predators by blending their backs and bellies with the sea or the sky.

Over millions of years, penguins have adapted to the icy waters of the Southern Ocean and to the tropical climate of the Galapagos Islands. But now they are facing their biggest challenge: interference from people. As reported in the recent book Penguins: Natural History and Conservation, climate change, habitat degradation, the introduction of nonnative predators, oil pollution, and depletion of their food sources through overfishing are straining penguin populations. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, most penguin species are in decline.

But it isn't too late. The Pew Charitable Trusts has worked closely with many organizations, including the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, the Global Penguin Society, and Oceanites, to develop a base of scientific information that will inform policy decisions aimed at helping penguins survive and thrive into the future.

Our Work

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  • Southern Ocean Body Rejects New Protections but Moves Forward on a Monitoring Plan

    HOBART, Australia—In mixed news for ocean conservation advocates, the body that governs all activity in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica concluded its 36th annual meeting today without creating a marine protected area (MPA) in East Antarctica. But the scientific body within the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) did endorse a plan to monitor... Read More

  • Protection for the Weddell Sea

    The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is considering a proposal that would create a marine reserve in the Weddell Sea covering 700,000 square miles (1.8 million square kilometers). The Weddell Sea is a remote, ice-covered embayment east of the Antarctic Peninsula, and one of the most pristine marine ecosystems in the world. This area is a unique habitat... Read More

  • Protection for the Antarctic Peninsula Region

    The Western Antarctic Peninsula and South Scotia Arc regions are some of the most biologically important areasof the Southern Ocean and have experienced the impacts of a changing climate more than almost anywhere elseon Earth. Regional warming is leading to changing weather conditions, substantial declines in sea ice formation,and winter habitat loss for wildlife such as Adélie and... Read More

CCAMLR 101: How to Protect Antarctica's Marine Life

CCAMLR 101: How to Protect Antarctica's Marine Life

Media Contact

Barbara Cvrkel

Officer, Communications