Blog: Carlita the Croc

Why does El Niño matter?

If you’ve been following along, you will know that climate change is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and you know that it can have some surprising effects on crocodilians in general. Today I have a special guest, a South American neighbor, who is here to talk about how climate change affects her and her kin down in Punta San Juan, Peru


Hi, I’m Ariel, a Humboldt penguin here at Brookfield Zoo and I want to tell you a little bit about my home. 

Most people think penguins live in cold places, but not me! My species lives off the coast of Peru where daytime temperatures can reach 108 degrees! We get our name from a current that runs from Antarctica along the coast of South America called the Humboldt Current or the Peru Current. This cold water current is the perfect place for my favorite food, the anchovy, to live. The cold water provides plenty of oxygen and nutrients for the fish, and the fish provide plenty of food for me! 


This is a great thing for all of you too. While you might not like to eat anchovies, a lot of the things you eat will eat anchovies every day! Anchovies are commonly fed to livestock including pigs and chickens. As you can see, we all have a pretty great set up with the Humboldt Current, but lately, there has been a bit of a problem.
Every three to seven years, there is a weather event called an El Niño. An El Niño is one part of a larger event called the El Niño Southern Oscillation or ENSO for short. You can think of the ENSO as a knob on a thermostat. The ENSO has three states: El Nino, which is like turning the thermostat to hot, La Niña, which is like turning the thermostat to cold and Neutral, which is right in the middle. The “thermostat” naturally fluctuates between El Niño, La Niña, and Neutral. When these events occur, they also affect the wind, rain, and temperature which can shape weather on a global scale.  An El Niño occurs when the surface temperature of the ocean warms and the surface winds either weaken or start blowing from west to east instead of from east to west. During an El Niño year in Peru where my relatives live, the cold Humboldt Current where the anchovies live becomes warmer. This means the anchovies go farther out and farther down in the ocean to find comfortable temperatures. This makes it harder for penguins to find food. 

To the right of the current is the continent of South America, where my relatives live! 

While the El Niño is something that happens naturally, scientists are hypothesizing that climate change is causing El Niños to become more powerful. While scientists are still trying to figure out how climate change and El Niño work together, by looking at the coral record they can tell that since the industrial revolution El Niños and La Niñas have been much stronger than they were before, with the 2015 El Niño being one of the largest on record. Stronger or more frequent El Niños put penguins and humans at risk of not being able to get the anchovies we need.
Thankfully, you can help! By partnering with your community you can encourage your legislature to support sustainable forms of energy in your area and across the country. This will help keep the global temperatures lower and make sure the ENSO and El Niño happens exactly how nature intended.

Posted: 8/3/2016 3:12:31 PM by

Carlita the Croc

I'm Carlita the Croc, here to deliver my candid views on various topics, articles, news, and stories in conservation. For the latest news follow me on Twitter, for striking photos follow me on Instagram.


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