The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has updated the status of five penguin species as “threatened” effective today (Sept. 2), under the Endangered Species Act — meaning the species are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The five penguin species in question are the yellow-eyed penguin, white-flippered penguin, Fiordland crested penguin, Humboldt penguin and erect-crested penguin. They will be added to the federal lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
A species is deemed endangered or threatened due to one or more of these five factors: habitat destruction, commercial exploitation, disease or predation, inadequate existing regulation, and other existing factors.
The yellow-eyed penguin has declined in numbers primarily due to deforestation, grazing animals and agricultural activities on the South Island of New Zealand. In the case of the white-flippered penguin, introduced mammalian predators account for their primary threat on Banks Peninsula, also on New Zealand’s South Island.
Tourism and encroachment are the main threats to the Fiordland-crested penguin (found along the southwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and on nearby Stewart Island), as it is quite sensitive to human disturbance and shows high nest fidelity. For both the Humboldt penguin (coastal Chile and Peru) and the erect-crested penguin (New Zealand), it is interesting to note that the main threat to their survival is attributed to El Nino effects — which are hypothesized to be responsible for warmer ocean temperatures, which in this case has altered the availability of prey species for the penguins.
To help with this process, the Fish and Wildlife Service received input from nine peer reviewers with scientific expertise who support the proposed listings. This new status for these birds is a bittersweet development. On the one hand, they will receive more protection, but on the other, the fact that they are listed is indicative of the perilous state of our wildlife.