Significant threats to Humboldt penguins include overfishing of prey species, drowning in gill nets, guano harvesting, human interference, and El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. The 1982-83 ENSO caused a 65% depletion of the Humboldt population off the coast of Peru. The population partially recovered, but subsequently plummeted again during the 1997-98 El Niño event.
SeaWorld San Diego is a “Participating Institution” in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Humboldt penguins. The SSP is a captive propagation and management program to preserve, in zoos and aquariums, selected species — most of which are threatened or endangered in the wild.
All 17 penguin species are legally protected from hunting and egg collecting. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 makes it illegal to harm, or in any way interfere with, a penguin or its eggs. Every penguin specimen collected with a permit must be approved by and reported to the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR). Penguins are vulnerable to habitat destruction, overfishing of primary food sources, ecological disasters such as oil spills, pollution such as trash in the ocean, and human encroachment into nesting areas.