Environmental News

South African Penguins Face Extinction While Scientists Argue Over The Reason


African Penguins are at risk of extinction and scientists can’t agree on the reason.

The population of African Penguins along South Africa’s west coast has plummeted by 90 percent in the last 11 years, reports Fox News. The anchovies and sardines the birds feed on have migrated to cooler waters, making the penguins’ food supply scarce.

The decline, recorded by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, has led to four fishing grounds being ruled as off limits. The move, made seven years ago, was part of an experiment to see if the penguins could be saved.

Scientists continue to debate whether fishing has a direct affect on the decline of the species. According to M Live, the debate has grown so heated the Island Closures Task Team – which oversaw the experiment — disbanded last year. The fishing bans remain in place, however.

African Penguins, declared endangered in 2010 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, exist in only two countries; South Africa and Namibia. Only 10,000 of the birds remain, down from 1 million in the 1930s.

While the debate over whether fishing has affected the impending extinction of the birds, scientists do agree on one thing: the decline of the African Penguin began in 2004 when the anchovies and sardines started migrating away. The reason for the migration remains a mystery, although possible reasons considered are natural fluctuations, overfishing, and climate change.

As penguins must swim farther to catch the fish, the adults are left weak. Many die or abandon their chicks. Most of these orphans end up in the crowded, outdoor pens of a seabird rehabilitation center in Cape Town’s Table Bay.  Here, workers of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds feed and medicate the chicks, and release rehabilitated penguins back in the wild every week.

As the numbers of the flightless birds continue to dwindle, the argument in the scientific community rages on: does fishing affect their numbers? Do fishing bans propose a solution to the problem?

Whatever the issue is, conservation program manager of BirdLife South Africa Ross Wanless says, “We need to act now.”

There’s a lot at stake. We need to act now.

In an unrelated study, it was discovered that penguins lack three of the five basic taste buds. The birds are only able to taste salty and sour.

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