"Penguins are among those species that show us that we are making fundamental changes to our world," she said. "The fate of all species is to go extinct, but there are some species that go extinct before their time and we are facing that possibility with some penguins."
In a new paper published in the July-August edition of the journal BioScience, Boersma notes that there are 16 to 19 penguin species, and most penguins are at 43 geographical sites, virtually all in the Southern Hemisphere. But for most of these colonies, so little is known that even their population trends are a mystery. The result is that few people realized that many of them were experiencing sharp population declines.
Boersma contends the birds actually serve as sentinels for radically changing environment. She advocates a broad international effort to check on the largest colonies of each penguin species regularly-- at least every five years -- to see how their populations are faring, what the greatest threats seem to be and what the changes mean for the health of the oceans.
"We have to be able to understand the world that we live in and depend on," she said. "It is the responsibility of governments to gather the information that helps us understand and make it available, but if they can
For 25 years, working with the Wildlife Conservation Society and UW colleagues, Boersma has studied the world