King penguins, Aptenodytes patagonicus King penguins, Aptenodytes patagonicus, colony. Macquarie Island, Sub Antarctic, administered by Tasmania, Australia. (AUSCAPE/UIG/GETTY)
August 15, 2018
A study of the world’s largest colony of king penguins has found that their population declined by 88 percent over the last 35 years - from 2 million to less than 200,000. The majestic birds live on the Ile aux Cochons island, halfway between the tip of Africa and Antarctica. There are a number of theories on why their numbers have been dwindling - feral cats and mice among them - but climate change is also a major possibility.
The decline likely began around 1997, according to Smithsonian.com, when a major El Niño temporarily warmed the southern Indian Ocean, killing off or displacing the fish and squid the penguins rely on. The species does not fly or migrate, so they found themselves stuck on their foodless island. El Niños typically come in 2-7 year cycles but can be amplified by global warming, which make the cycles last longer.
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The summer of 2018 is on track to be among the hottest on earth. Wildfires burned across Europe and in the US state of California more than ten thousand firefighters are battling massive flames. In Japan “unprecedented levels of heat” have claimed more than 60 lives. And, in Death Valley California, a record was set for the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, with 21 days over 120 degrees.