On Wednesday the Bush Administration decided to give several penguin species the official designation of "threatened" under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity notes that the chosen list of species does not include emperor penguins, who are much beloved by the public. The protected species are: the African penguin, the yell0w-eyed penguin, white-flippered penguin, Fiordland crested penguin, Humboldt penguin and erect-crested penguin. Many people may be wondering about this development - since when do Americans have control over Antarctic animals? Jacob Liebenluft over at Slate helpfully explains why exactly the U.S. makes these sort of designations about species that don't live anywhere near U.S. territory. Essentially, the U.S. 0ften lists species that don't live in its territory under the Endangered Species Act if the goverment wishes to halt trade in the species or products derived from it, or if the actions of U.S. citizens might contribute to the species' decline. As the trade in penguins these days is mostly confined to motion pictures about them, this ruling is likely to pave the way for greater regulation of activities that may harm penguins, such as fishing methods that may accidentally trap and kill them.
The species not listed are still at risk. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, they are very threatened by climate change. The government did not agree. Regardless of the merits, it's easy to see why the U.S. does not want to protect animals at risk from global warming. If listed, they could be sued for failing to protect the penguins from the impacts of global warming. Aside from lawsuits, there would also be more pressure for the government to take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change in the Southern Ocean. So it's not entirely surprising. It remains to be seen what actions will be taken to protect those species that were listed.