The Intercourse Mad International Warming Penguin Inhabitants Explosion is a Trigger for Concern – Watts Up With That?

Essay by Eric Worrall

Aussie scientists struggling to present good news as a grim warning about the future.

Phillip Island’s little penguin colony passes 40,000 as climate change leads to more mating

ABC Gippsland / By William Howard and Millicent Spencer

Polyamorous little penguins living on Phillip Island, off Australia’s southern coast, are having so much sex there are now more than 40,000 of them — and it is all thanks to climate change.

Key points:

  • Phillip Island’s little penguin colony is growing as rising sea temperatures lead to more fish
  • With more energy, the animals are mating twice each season, often with different partners
  • Climate scientists warn it is important to look at the full picture of events in the ecosystem

As sea surface temperatures have increased, so too has the number of fish swimming in the surrounding coastal waters.

Phillip Island Nature Parks marine scientist and Monash University associate professor Andre Chiaradia said the influx of food meant the “opportunistic” little penguins had more time, and energy, to mate.

A false sense of hope?

Professor Brendan Wintle, the director of the Melbourne Biodiversity Institute and lead councillor at the Biodiversity Council, said shifts in one part of an ecosystem had impacts elsewhere.

“Ecosystems are big connections, big webs of interactions between animals and plants,” he said.

“If you’re seeing changes in one animal or plant species, you can be absolutely sure that’s going to be having an impact on hundreds of other species that we may not be studying so closely.”

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I think I understand this climate thing now. When a species mass die off occurs, climate change is blamed, but when benign conditions cause populations to boom, scientists warn about the imminent climate change mass die off.

So what are the long term prospects for the penguins?

I don’t expect record populations to continue uninterrupted, really big concentrations of a single species are a disease magnet. No doubt any disease driven die back will be blamed on global warming.

Longer term, even if global warming continues, there is no evidence global warming would harm fish populations, quite the opposite. During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 5-8C hotter than today, the oceans were full of fish.

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