for National Geographic News
The new animated movie Happy Feet sees the world's biggest penguins struggling for food, menaced by global warming, and perhaps justifiably, frightened of humans.
But is the icy adventure all it's cracked up to be? Scientists explain what Happy Feet gets right and where it's all wet.
(Related photo: "Penguin Shoes Ensure 'Happy' Feet.")
In Happy Feet, an emperor penguin named Mumble embarks on an epic quest to find out what's causing his colony's food—fish—to dwindle.
The culprit, not surprisingly, turns out to be humans.
It's a story that mirrors real life. From Antarctica to the Galápagos Islands, penguins find themselves increasingly threatened by human activity. Threats include overfishing, oil spills, human encroachment, and global warming.
Gary Miller is a behavioral ecologist who worked as a penguin consultant to the Happy Feet filmmakers.
"Penguin populations all over the world are being affected by things like global warming and by food reduction in areas where they breed," Miller said in a telephone interview from Perth, Australia, where he is affiliated with the University of Western Australia.
Penguins live exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere and are found as far north as Ecuador's Galápagos Islands (Ecuador map and facts).
The emperor penguins' breeding ritual during the harsh Antarctic winter months was depicted in the documentary March of the Penguins and plays an important role in the story of Happy Feet. (National Geographic Feature Films co-distributed March of the Penguins and is part of the National Geographic Society, as is National Geographic News.)
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