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I have studied emperor penguins for 30 years. We may witness their demise in our lifetime


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Last week I saw a headline announcing that last year thousands of emperor penguin chicks had died in the Bellingshausen Sea, when the fast ice broke out unusually early. I was deeply saddened and devastated, but not surprised.

The region where this dreadful event occurred has been one of the fastest warming areas on Earth, and as temperature records are being broken year after year, a catastrophe of this kind was a matter of time. For nearly two decades, scientists have developed models to predict the potential impact of raising temperatures on emperor penguins to establish what the future would hold for these magnificent birds.

Being cautious by nature, scientists warned that in the next few decades the global emperor population will suffer significant losses. This fate appeared a long way in the future, but it seems that the future is now.

I have studied emperor penguins for 30 years and have never stopped marvelling how they survive in an extreme, hostile environment. Many adaptations in behaviour, anatomy and physiology took thousands and thousands of years to evolve to enable…

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