Are Emperor Penguins Endangered?

Yes, Emperor penguins are endangered. They would be extinct by the end of the century when the majority of colonies would have lost their families. Biologists have warned that there would not be any more penguins by the end of the century.

Emperor’s penguins are flightless birds that inhabit Antarctica. They substantially depend on sea ice because it is one of their primary food sources available. They are threatened by changes to sea ice which are being driven by climatic conditions.

Emperor Penguins
Emperor Penguins


The role of ice in the life of emperor penguins is complicated. They are heavily dependent on sea ice for their livelihoods and are hence sensitive to changes in the sea ice concentration. They spend long winters on the open ice this harsh season is also their time to breed.

Females lay a single egg and promptly leave it behind for the male emperors to keep them warm. The male emperors stabilize the egg on their feet and also cover them with feathered skin known as a brood pouch. During this two-month, the males do not eat anything and are at the mercy of the Antarctic elements.

On the other side, the female penguins go on a hunting spree. Depending on the amount of the ice pack, females may need to travel some miles to reach the open ocean. Too much ice requires longer trips for penguins to hunt and bring back food for their chicks, but too little ice reduces the habitat for krill, a critical food source for emperor penguins.

At sea, emperor penguins may dive up to 1,850 feet to search for food such as krill, small shrimp, fish, crabs, and squid. When the female penguins return, they bring a belly full of food for the newly hatched chicks. Then the male emperor takes to the sea to search for food.

Mothers protect their young chicks by warming in their brood pouches. If the chick comes outside, it might die in just a few minutes. In December, the pack ice begins to break up, and open water appears near the breeding site at this time the young emperor penguins are ready to swim and fish on their own.


According to a new study by 2100, the already existing population of penguin colonies would have reduced to at least two-thirds if there is a radical rise in the temperatures as predicted by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

This study was conducted by the lead researcher of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) on migrating emperor penguins. They say that as a result of deteriorating sea ice conditions caused due to climatic conditions. Most of the known colonies populations would drop by 50 percent.


Emperor penguins raise and breed their young on fast ice that covers seawater but is attached to the land. As temperatures in the Antarctic mild and sea ice melts these penguins lose their habitat. This leads to a condition of adapting and even migrating to find another suitable place to live. This means they don’t also have a place to breed which would not allow them to increase their population.








Image Credit:

  1. Emperor Penguins by lin padgham / CC BY

I got interested in penguins from a young age and as I grew I realized that penguins are such fascinating birds. I made it a mission to create a website where all information about penguins could be accessed in an easy to read format.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 4 comments
Mark - November 8, 2019

How did they survive the last warming period? It’s been a lot warmer in the past. How about this article? ‘Mega-colonies’ of 1.5 million penguins discovered in Antarctica. Used on-the-ground counts and aerial photography from drones to reveal 751,527 pairs of penguins. Warm means life prospers.
I knew the rough idea about the number of coal plants, but had not yet seen actual numbers until now.

The EU has 468 – building 27 more… Total 495
Turkey has 56 – building 93 more… Total 149
South Africa has 79 – building 24 more… Total 103
India has 589 – building 446 more… Total 1035
Philippines has 19 – building 60 more… Total 79
South Korea has 58 – building 26 more… Total 84
Japan has 90 – building 45 more… Total 135
China has 2,363 – building 1,171 more… Total 3,534
That’s 5,615 projected coal powered plants in just 8 countries.
USA has 15 – building 0 more..Total 15

A two-megawatt windmill is made up of 260 tons of steel that required 300 tons of iron ore and 170 tons of coking coal, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons. A windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it.
What will you replace oil with? The only true clean energy is geothermal, but it still requires steel, copper, cement, ceramics, haul trucks, rubber, plastic, roads and many more. All built with mining. Recycling and electric cars still require energy. Where does it come from? Power plants that require mining.

How do you stop other countries? We can not stop nuke’s

Barbara McKenzie - March 28, 2021

The weather report for Vostok Station, today 29 March 2021, predicts temperatures of “-49° Feels like -68°”.

Is there a theory that if temperatures rise in Antarctica from -49 to, say,-46, all the sea-ice will disappear? If so, it would be good to see the research. If not, these warnings about the fate of penguins in the event of some warming seem somewhat alarmist.

Gordon Oakley - August 3, 2021

I don’t understand the contradiction: Antarctic ice has been expanding for many years, yet articles say emperor penguins are endangered because their habitat (ice) is contracting.

What am I missing?

Paul H. Johnson - September 8, 2021

“They substantially depend on sea ice because it is one of their primary food sources available.”

Oh, penguins eat sea ice.

Some penguins populations going up, some down. Cold weather kills the penguins. When the ice breaks up, the penguins go to sea to eat. Warm weather may be good for emperor penguins in the long run.
See https://oceanites.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/SOAP-2018-Online.pdf
We again note that, over the past 60+ years in the warmed Antarctic Peninsula, gentoo populations have increased
significantly; Adélie penguin populations in parts of this region have declined significantly; and chinstrap penguin
populations have declined and, at some locations, significantly. By contrast, Adélie penguin populations in East
Antarctica and the Ross Sea appear to be increasing.

National Geographic list emperor penguin population as stable.


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