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27 April 2022

Press Release

For immediate release

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World Penguin Day: WWF warn climate crisis could lead Emperor penguins towards extinction unless urgent action is taken

  • Around 80% of Emperor penguin colonies are projected to be quasi-extinct by 2100 under current levels of emissions  
  • WWF calls for Emperor penguins to be listed as a Specially Protected Species  
  • World Penguin Day falls on 25 April each year and raises awareness of these creatures all around the world 

This World Penguin Day, (25 April), conservation charity WWF is warning that Emperor penguin populations risk rapid and dramatic decline due to habitat loss – driven by climate change.    

Ahead of the Antarctic Treaty meeting in Berlin next month – which designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science - WWF is calling for Emperor penguins to be listed as a Specially Protected Species in order to help chart a future for this iconic species.    

This follows a report from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) to last year’s Treaty meeting, which highlighted that 80% of all known colonies are projected to be quasi-extinct by 2100 under current levels of C02 emissions. It also predicted the total number of Emperor penguins could decline by at least 81% under that scenario. 

In extreme circumstances, the paper warned up to 100% of colonies could become quasi-extinct by 2100 with the number of Emperor penguins projected to decline by at least 99%. 

Rod Downie, WWF’s Chief Adviser, Polar Regions, said: “Emperor penguins are the most iconic species of the ice. They are uniquely adapted to the harsh and extreme Antarctic environment. Yet they are also increasingly vulnerable to climate change, habitat loss and human disturbance. Only humans can secure the future of this species, as their fate depends on global climate policy combined with an action plan to protect their habitat and remove other risks from human disturbance. We need Emperor penguins to be listed as Specially Protected Species at this year’s Antarctic Treaty meeting in order to better shield them against the threat of climate change and to ensure their continued survival.”   

Emperor penguins are vulnerable to different kinds of change in sea ice, such as thinning and reducing in extent and their breeding success – and the very survival of the species - depends on the sea ice being just right for their needs. 

Emperor penguins require stable, ‘fast’ ice (sea ice which is connected to the land) for about nine months of the year as a platform to mate, incubate their eggs, raise their chicks, and replace their feathers during the annual moult.  

Changes to, or loss of, fast ice, or early ice break-out can cause massive breeding failure for several consecutive years. Collapsed ice shelves can block paths to feeding areas, leading to the death of both chicks and adults. 

Due to rising global temperatures, the loss of Antarctic sea ice is now almost certain. In March, temperatures in parts of eastern Antarctica rose by 40°C above average.  

Listing Emperor penguins as a Specially Protected Species at the Treaty meeting will help to avoid any further stressors to these unique species by prohibiting any harmful interference and avoiding any detrimental changes.  

They need urgent protection as even in the best-case scenario their population is likely to decrease by 31% by the end of this century because of existing and ongoing change.


Notes to Editors

Emperor penguins, the largest of all living penguin species, are uniquely adapted to living in the extreme conditions of Antarctica but require stable, fast ice for at least nine months of the year as a platform to mate, incubate their eggs, raise their chicks, and replace their feathers during the annual moult.  

A survey led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) - which used satellite mapping technology – found there are nearly 20% more Emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica than was previously thought. The results provided an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of this bird. 

Since 2013, BAS has collaborated with WWF to monitor these colonies including sixteen breeding sites, many of which have experienced dramatic changes in population sizes over time. 

About World Penguin Day: 

Observed across the world on 25 April, World Penguin Day recognises one of the most unique birds on the planet. There are 18 species of penguins and all their natural habitats are in the Southern hemisphere. This annual celebration of penguins was created at McMurdo Station, an American research centre on Ross Island. 

Researchers noticed that the Adelie penguins began their migration around this day each year, and so they founded World Penguin Day as a way to mark the occasion and raise awareness of these creatures. 

About the Antarctic Treaty: 

The Antarctic Treaty came into force on 23 June 1961 after ratification by the twelve countries then active in Antarctic science. Its objectives are simple yet unique in international relations. Under the Antarctic Treaty System, several international agreements are in place to protect Antarctic wildlife and vegetation. 

In 2019, the UK, supported by a number of other countries, notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) that Emperor penguins were threatened through the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protections should be developed. 

The 44th ATCM will run from 23 May until 2 June 2022 in Berlin. 

About WWF:  

WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, active in nearly 100 countries.   

Our supporters – more than five million of them – are helping us to restore nature and to tackle the main causes of nature’s decline, particularly the food system and climate change. We’re working to ensure a world with thriving habitats and species, and to change hearts and minds so it becomes unacceptable to overuse our planet’s resources.   

WWF. For your world.   

For wildlife, for people, for nature.   

Find out more about our work, past and present at