Climate Change May Actually Benefit Endangered Galápagos Penguins

Thought climate change was bad for everyone? Think again. It may actually have benefits to the only penguin native to the northern hemisphere, the Galápagos penguin.

According to a study led by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shifting equatorial winds and water temperatures – potentially related to climate change – have caused an undersea river to reach the Galápagos Islands. The river, called the Equatorial Undercurrent, creates a steady flow of cold ocean water that has revitalized food sources on the western side of the Galápagos, where a majority of the penguins live.

Now that the Galápagos penguins have more fish to eat, they’ve hatched more babies who make it to adulthood, more than tripling their numbers. 15 years ago, there were just a few hundred, but today there are over 1,000 penguins.

Photo by Rodrigo Soldon 2 / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Rodrigo Soldon 2 / CC BY-ND 2.0

The refreshed food supply has also been good for fur seals and iguanas in the region. Associate scientist with Woods Hole and lead author of the study Kristopher B. Karnauskas says:

“When you see a cold pool of water where you’d expect to see warm water, that indicates something is mixing that water up from below. That water is feeding everything from plankton on up. It has been strengthening in the past 30 years and expanding northward…The sea surface temperature trend shows that just to the north of where most of the penguins are has become more of a suitable environment than it was in the past.”

Photo by Charles Pence / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Charles Pence / CC BY-SA 2.0

Karnauskas believes the findings in his study can help conserve and increase the Galápagos penguin population. But he is only cautiously optimistic because rising ocean temperatures are still harmful to the rest of the world’s marine habitats. Karnauskas explains:

“This could be interpreted as ‘Global warming is good for penguins.’ I think that’s glossing over the details too much. The Galápagos happens to be this little outpost that, at least in the near term, is benefiting from changes in ocean circulation that could be driven by anthropogenic climate change. But I wouldn’t necessarily count on this saving them forever.”

Featured image by zpics / CC BY-ND 2.0

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