Le Maho said this temperature sensitivity is likely to cause problems for penguin populations,as climatologists predict a 0.72 degree Fahrenheit (0.4 degree Celsius) increase in oceans off Antarctica over the next 20 years.
(Related news: "Adelie Penguins Extinct in a Decade in Some Areas?" [December 28, 2007].)
William Fraser, an ecologist at the Polar Oceans Research Group in Sheridan, Montana, was not involved with the study.
"Here's another species, [such as] the polar bear in the Arctic and the Adélie penguin in the Antarctic, that we would have thought to be undisturbed," he said.
"Because these animals live so far removed from people, it often passes us by that they too are vulnerable to human impacts like climate change."
Ron Swaisgood, a conservation biologist at the San Diego Zoological Society, also compared the king penguins' struggles to that of polar bears.
"Polar bears traverse the ice in search of seals, [and] the sea ice is disappearing," he said. "Loss of sea ice means that polar bears will not have access to their primary prey.
"That penguins are in this situation too points to the global degree of the problem."
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES