World Penguin Day: Penguin population in Antarctica is 12 million – USA TODAY

If you’ve ever wondered how many penguins there are in Antarctica, now we know: There are 12 million of the famed flightless waddling birds down there.
In the most comprehensive survey of Antarctic penguins ever, researchers have for the first time calculated the number of each of the five species of penguins in the frozen continent at the bottom of the world. (The five species are emperor, Adélie, chinstrap, gentoo and macaroni.)
The first-ever “State of Antarctic Penguin” report was compiled by Ron Naveen, who has had one job for most of the past two decades: “I count penguins,” he said.
Once a government lawyer and now described as a 21st century Dr. Dolittle, Naveen has been going to Antarctica for more than 30 years — what amounts to more than six years in real time, and counting penguins for the past 20 years.
Why bother? Counting penguins in Antarctica, he says, is one of the best ways to track the impact of climate change and ocean health in the world’s most pristine scientific laboratory.
“We need to have these baselines in place so the whole science community out there has data to assess how the climate is warming,” said Naveen, who is the head of the environmental organization Oceanites, which he founded in 1987.
In fact, it turns out that the populations of the two most common species — Adélies and chinstraps — are in decline on the Antarctic Peninsula, according to the report, and one of the main factors is climate change.
“In one generation, I have personally witnessed the precipitous decline of once abundant Adélie and chinstrap penguin populations,” Naveen said. “These iconic birds are literally canaries in the coal mine.
“This is affirmation that this place down here is changing in a real radical way,” he added, while on location in Antarctica.
The Antarctic Peninsula, the part of the continent that sticks out toward South America where many penguin species live, has warmed a whopping 5 degrees in the past 60 years, one of the most dramatic increases anywhere on Earth.
“The penguins that we study on the (Antarctic) peninsula give us an unbelievably good case study in how climate change can impact organisms,” said Heather Lynch, a statistical ecologist from Stony Brook University, who works with Naveen.
The news wasn’t all bad. The population of the gentoo penguin on the peninsula has actually increased, as have penguin populations on the rest of the continent in such locations as the Ross Sea and eastern Antarctica, where dramatic warming has not occurred.
The report aggregated data from 660 sites across Antarctica and drew on the latest scientific data, including more than 3,000 records from 100 sources of on-the-ground colony counts and satellite photo analyses.
The emperor and Adélie are the only two penguin species that breed around the entire continent, while the other three are restricted to the northern sections of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Penguins losing habitat in Antarctica, could be decimated by 2099
The report was released just in time for World Penguin Day, which is Tuesday. It also marks the theatrical release in New York City of the new Penguin Counters documentary about Naveen and his team.
Speaking about the movie, Naveen said he hopes it will “inspire a whole new generation of penguin counters!” In the meantime, though, he wants “to keep doing this,” he said. “It’s my life.”