The effects of global climate change have largely been negative so far, especially in the world’s oceans. For Galapagos penguins however, climate change might be a boon. The small penguins were added to the endangered species list in 2000 when their population dropped to only a few hundred, but recent effects of climate change may have helped those numbers more than double to around 1,000 birds.


The penguin population fell for a few reasons, but primarily because of the introduction of cats, dogs, and rats to the islands, which impacted their territory and preyed upon their numbers, but also because of a general warming of the waters where they hunt. Increasing water temperatures reduced the fish populations that they prey upon but over the last 30 years, those waters have cooled of, and the cold pool within the ocean has expanded, by about 22 miles, giving them a larger area to hunt, and giving their prey more food and more room as well.

That cool down is caused by the Equatorial Undercurrent that brings cold water north and which, when it hits the islands the penguins call home, gets pushed up toward the surface, bringing nutrients and colder temperatures. As a result, the penguins crowd along a couple of spots on the coastline. Thanks to the melting of Polar ice, more cold water is being pushed north, which has cooled the water back down, and has expanded the region in which they penguins can flourish.

Researchers aren’t sure how long this will last though. Ocean temperatures in general are rising, and the Equatorial Undercurrent cycles, pushing more or less cold water north at different times, so there’s no telling how long this penguin population boom will continue. For now, the penguins are better off than they have been for decades, and hopefully researchers can learn more about the species and their ecosystem, and perhaps find way to help the birds maintain their current population, even if the waters warm up again.