IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


28th August, 2023 Environment

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  • In a stark reminder of the immediate impact of climate change, approximately 10,000 young Emperor penguin chicks met a tragic fate in Antarctica last year due to the breakup of sea ice.
  • This incident highlights the urgency of addressing environmental concerns as climate change's effects become increasingly evident.


Details of the Event

  • Late in 2022, a heart-wrenching event unfolded in the western part of Antarctica, adjacent to the Bellingshausen Sea.
  • The incident was observed by satellite imagery and revealed a distressing reality.

Life Cycle of Emperor Penguins

  • As part of their natural life cycle, Emperor penguins inhabit the sea ice in March for mating and egg-laying.
  • Following hatching, chicks are nurtured for several months until they are equipped with waterproof feathers, enabling them to venture into the ocean.

Dependence on Stable Sea Ice

  • Emperor penguins are heavily reliant on stable sea ice as a platform for their breeding activities.
  • This ice provides the necessary stability for raising their young, making it an essential element of their survival strategy.

Impact of Climate Change

  • The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reported that disruptions in sea ice caused by climate change jeopardize the Emperor penguins' breeding cycle.
  • Diminishing ice coverage and faster ice breakup have dire consequences for these birds.
  • In the unfortunate events of last year, the sea ice began fragmenting prematurely, while the chicks were still in the developmental phase.
  • This abrupt ice breakup led to the death of thousands of chicks, either due to drowning or freezing.

Scope of Impact

  • Between 2018 and 2022, more than a third of the identified Emperor penguin colonies felt the effects of diminished sea ice extent.
  • The vulnerability of these penguins to changing ice conditions is a concerning sign of the larger ecological changes.

Emperor Penguins

  • Emperor penguins, the tallest and heaviest among their kin, exclusively inhabit Antarctica.
  • Their flightless bodies are adapted to marine life, with streamlined forms and flippers.
  • These remarkable creatures brave the harsh Antarctic winters for their breeding cycle.
  • The Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is one of the most iconic and recognizable species of penguins.

Physical Characteristics

Size: Emperor penguins are the tallest and heaviest of all penguin species. Adults typically stand about 1.1 meters (3 feet 7 inches) tall and can weigh between 20 to 40 kilograms (44 to 88 pounds).

Coloration: They have a distinctive black and white coloration. Their back, head, and flippers are black, while their belly is white.

Adaptations: Emperor penguins have several adaptations to survive in the extreme cold of Antarctica, including a thick layer of blubber for insulation and a dense coat of feathers that traps a layer of warm air close to their bodies.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Breeding: Emperor penguins have a unique breeding strategy. They breed during the harsh Antarctic winter when temperatures can drop as low as -40°C (-40°F). They form large colonies on the ice, where males incubate the eggs on their feet, transferring them between their brood pouch and their partner. Females return after about two months of foraging in the ocean to take over care of the chick.

Parental Care: Emperor penguins are known for their exceptional parental care. Males fast for around 65 days while incubating the egg, relying on their fat reserves. Once the chicks hatch, both parents take turns feeding and keeping the chicks warm in the brood pouches.

Chick Rearing: The chicks are kept in a crèche, a group of chicks huddled together for warmth and protection, while the parents go out to sea to feed. This communal arrangement helps them survive the harsh conditions.

Feeding: Emperor penguins primarily feed on fish, krill, and squid, diving to incredible depths—sometimes exceeding 500 meters (1,640 feet)—to catch their prey. They can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes during these dives.

Conservation Status

  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists Emperor penguins as "Near Threatened."
  • However, there is a growing proposal to elevate their status to "Vulnerable" due to the impending risks posed by climate change.


The tragic loss of thousands of Emperor penguin chicks serves as an alarming reminder that climate change has tangible and immediate consequences. This incident underscores the urgent need for global action to mitigate climate change's impact and protect vulnerable species from further devastation.


Q. Which penguin species exhibits a unique breeding strategy by incubating eggs on the feet and practices communal chick rearing in the harsh Antarctic environment?

A) King Penguin

B) Adélie Penguin

C) Emperor Penguin

D) Gentoo Penguin


C) Emperor Penguin