Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 3, 2021


Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344,

Emperor Penguin Proposed for U.S. Endangered Species Protection

Urgent Action to Combat Climate Crisis Can Save Penguin

WASHINGTON— Following a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed the emperor penguin for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The species is gravely threatened by sea-ice loss driven by the climate emergency.

“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Penguin scientists have recommended protections for years, and we must act now before climate change wipes out these amazing, iconic birds.”

A 2021 study by leading emperor penguin scientists, climate scientists and policy experts concluded that the emperor penguin should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because of threats from sea-ice loss.

Similarly, a 2020 scientific review by 18 penguin experts concluded that emperor penguins are vulnerable to extinction because of the climate crisis and made an urgent call for stronger climate action and legal protections for these penguins.

Emperor penguins need reliable sea ice for breeding and raising their chicks. With sea ice disappearing or breaking up earlier in the year, entire emperor penguin colonies are declining or vanishing in parts of Antarctica.

In recent years colonies at Halley Bay and Cape Crozier suffered catastrophic breeding failures when sea ice broke up early before chicks were ready to swim, resulting in the drowning deaths of thousands of chicks. The emperor penguin colony population at Point Géologie, notably featured in the film March of the Penguins, has declined by nearly 50%.

Scientists project that 80% of the world’s emperor penguins will disappear by the end of the century without major cuts in carbon pollution. But if nations meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius climate target, the penguins will suffer only a 30% decline, with the population stabilizing by the end of the century.

Melting sea ice, ocean acidification and industrial fisheries have also diminished the availability of krill — a key food source for emperor penguins.

An Endangered Species Act listing would provide critical help by increasing attention and resources. Listing would promote international cooperation on conservation strategies, increase funding for things like personnel and training assistance for conservation programs, spur research and provide concrete tools for threat reductions.

U.S. federal agencies would be required to reduce threats to this iconic penguin, including the greenhouse gas pollution driving the climate crisis and industrial overfishing of key prey species.

In 2011 the Center filed a legal petition requesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list emperor penguins as endangered. In 2014 the agency agreed that the emperor penguin may be endangered from climate change but failed to move forward on protections. A February 2020 settlement agreement required the Service to either propose protections or deem listing not warranted by July 29, 2021.

Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). Glenn Grant, National Science Foundation. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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