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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - July 13, 2001: Penguins Dying - 2001-07-12

This is with the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Experts say a shortage of fish and other food is threatening many of the world's penguins. They say as many as ten of the seventeen kinds of penguins may be in danger of disappearing.

For example, thousands of Magellanic penguins build their nests at Punta Tombo, Argentina. Wildlife Conservation Society researchers have studied these birds for eighteen years. They say the numbers of penguins have decreased by thirty percent since Nineteen-Eighty-Seven.

Penguins are black and white birds that live in the southern half of the world. They are common to South America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Many live near cold waters. But some live near warm waters in the Galapagos Islands, near the coast of Ecuador. Pengins cannot fly. But they are fine swimmers. Penguins eat fish. Some kinds of penguins eat a small shrimp-like crustacean called krill.

Many scientists blame global warming for the decrease in penguin populations. They believe the heating of the atmosphere has caused ocean waters to become warmer. The scientists say higher water temperatures have reduced the supply of fish and krill.

Rising air and water temperatures may have especially harmed Galapagos penguins. Researchers say that some years these birds are completely unable to reproduce. In addition, many adult penguins die of hunger.

Widespread fishing, exploration for oil and oil leaks also threaten penguins. Poisonous organisms in ocean water are another danger. These toxic blooms result from changes in the ocean water. Some scientists believe the warming of the oceans is responsible.

In Nineteen-Ninety, more than half the yellow-eyed penguins in New Zealand died suddenly. These endangered birds may have died of a mysterious disease. Penguins also have natural enemies, including wild dogs, sharks, seals and sea lions.

News about penguins is not all bad, however. About a year ago, oil leaking from a ship threatened forty percent of the penguins in South Africa. The penguins became covered with oil. But thousands of people helped clean and treat the birds. Then they returned the penguins to the wild. Now these South African penguins are reproducing in higher numbers than before the oil spill.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Jerilyn Watson.