With its distinctive black markings and beak, the aptly named chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus) is one of the most recognizable species of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic penguin.
Although populations of these birds are generally strong, natural decreases in the abundance of their prey, increases in commercial krill fishing, and melting and shifting sea ice could have a detrimental impact on colony stability and health.
There are about 4 million breeding pairs of chinstrap penguins, with most concentrated in the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland, South Orkney, and South Sandwich islands in the Southern Ocean. They are roughly the same size as Adélie penguins, with adults weighing 3.5 to 5.5 kilograms (about 7.7 to 12 pounds).
Chinstrap penguins are at little risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which gives them a rating of Least Concern.However, some colonies are in decline, and increased interest in krill fishing around the Antarctic Peninsula, combined with climate-driven declines in fish stocks and greater human activity in the Southern Ocean, could contribute to population changes.
Breeding chinstraps lay two eggs at a time, and the male and female share responsibility during the incubation period.
Chinstrap penguins generally forage in shallow waters and depend almost entirely on krill, the tiny shrimplike crustaceans that serve as building blocks of the food web in the Southern Ocean. As industrial krill fishing increases, particularly off the Antarctic Peninsula, less food may be available in chinstrap penguin foraging areas, and the birds’ populations could decline.
Antarctic tourism, particularly to the peninsula, is also on the rise. More than 37,000 travelers visited the Southern Ocean in the 2013-14 season. Increased human interference could affect colony health as well.
Successful foraging for krill is key to the survival of chinstrap penguins, as is minimizing potential disturbances from humans. The Pew Charitable Trusts recommends:
The consensus-based Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is made up of 24 countries and the European Union and has the authority to create largescale, fully protected marine reserves in the Southern Ocean. Action by CCAMLR is needed to help alleviate pressure on these penguins and protect them for the future.
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