Almost all of the 17 to 19 species of penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, with only the Galápagos penguin living north of the equator. The most famous is the emperor penguin, which is also the largest, measuring 45 inches, and it lives on Antarctica. Some species live in forests in New Zealand and its Subantarctic Islands as well as beaches in southern Africa.
Penguins are known as the birds that can’t fly but can swim — their flippers can propel them up to 15 miles per hour — but this also makes them susceptible to climate change. It impacts the distribution of their food within the ocean by moving away and out of reach, drastically decreasing their numbers in the future.
Overfishing is a huge problem for several species, including the African penguins and yellow-eyed penguins, which is the most endangered species with only around 4,000 birds remaining. The erect-crested penguin, living in New Zealand, has lost 70% of its population over the last two decades. The Galapagos penguin is also at risk of extinction.
Increases in precipitation can also have negative consequences for baby penguins, which have down feathers for the first several months of their lives and should not get wet, Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist, explained. “Decreases in duration of sea ice in the Southern Ocean have already likely caused fledgling emperor penguin chicks to die because they hadn’t gotten their swimming feathers before the sea ice melted.” These changes are simply happening too quickly for the birds to adapt, LaRue noted.