The Humboldt penguin, native to Peru and Chile, was one of the species to acquire Endangered Species Act protection. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
After years of review and consideration, five penguin species—one native to South America and four others native to New Zealand—will receive U.S. Endangered Species Act protections. Though the new designations will aid conservationists struggling to protect the penguins, the decision fell short of the petitioners' ultimate goal.The extensive protections and regulatory requirements that come along with listing under the Endangered Species Act mean that the spots available are limited—and the petitions and decisions tend to be based more on politics than population tallies.
In the case of these penguins—which include the Humboldt penguin, the yellow-eyed penguin, the white flippered pengiun, the fiordland penguin, and the erect-crested penguin—the political issue was climate change.
The yellow-eyed penguin is native to New Zealand. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
While the penguins are threatened by overfishing and ocean acidification, the petition, which was filed in 2006, named climate change as the primary challenge to their survival. Conservationists had hoped that the petition would force the Obama administration to confront climate change as a threat to ecology and biodiversity worldwide.
"Protecting these penguins under the Endangered Species Act gives them a chance at survival," Shaye Wolf, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, commented. He added that "sadly, in today's finding the Obama administration failed to acknowledge climate change as a threat. It won't be able to help penguins survive the climate crisis if it doesn't admit that it's a problem."
Still, the ruling will help protect these penguins where United States-regulated operations, like fisheries, work overseas. "Industrial fisheries and ocean warming are starving the penguins," Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, explained, "longlines and other destructive fishing gear entangle and drown them. Now they will have a fighting chance to survive."