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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Penguins in Peril

Penguins may star in Hollywood blockbusters as waddling comic relief, but in Antarctica their populations are struggling. Now members of a research team that includes a graduate student from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego believe they know why.

Based on 30 years of data and recent field expeditions, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Scripps' Jefferson Hinke concluded that the recent drops in Antarctic chinstrap and Adélie penguins were due to climate change resulting in a reduction of sea ice, and a declining availability of their main food source—tiny crustaceans called krill—due to the recoveries of whale and seal populations.

For Hinke, the most interesting aspect of the research was the team's ability to use details of their focused studies in Antarctica's Admiralty Bay to make broader conclusions across the penguin habitat.

Hinke has participated in six expeditions to Antarctica, spending up to three months at a time in the field.

"The most rewarding aspect [of Antarctic field research] is the solitude and simplicity of life in a small field camp," says Hinke. "Being surrounded by glaciers, thousands of penguins and beautiful, icy seas doesn't hurt either."

—Mario C. Aguilera, '89