A Hidden 1.5 Million Penguins 'Supercolony' Has Been Discovered From Space

Muriel Hammond
March 4, 2018

"We were surprised to find so many penguins on these islands, especially because some of these islands were not known to have penguins".

The discovery of 1.5 million penguins colony can help scientists learn about how the climate changes are exactly affecting Antarctican penguins colonies and what measure could be taken to protect them.

Historically, the Danger Islands weren't considered an important penguin habitat, according to Heather Lynch, associate professor of ecology & evolution at Stony Brook University, because the remote islands are surrounded by treacherous waters and are hard to access.

The incredible discovery was captured using a video drone, which snapped the countless birds on their remote and risky island home from the air.

Working off evidence from satellite imagery captured by NASA in 2014, scientists from various institutions mounted an expedition to the area to conduct a population survey - which included the use of drones to help count the number of penguins. Governments have a huge opportunity this year to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary, which would put nearby waters off-limits to expanding industrial fishing vessels that are targeting the major food source for penguins and other marine life: the small, shrimp-like, krill.

The penguins live on a tiny cluster of islands at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The team now want to get a better understanding of exactly what's causing the difference between the two populations, as well as set up policies to keep the Danger Islands protected.

A neural network software was then used to analyze the images to search for penguin nests. Is it linked to the extended sea ice condition over there? To discover without a doubt, Lynch cooperated with Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird environmentalist at WHOI, Mike Polito at LSU and Tom Hart at Oxford University to mastermind a campaign to the islands with the objective of tallying the winged creatures firsthand.

Dr Hart commented: "On the West Antarctic Peninsula, Adelie and chinstrap penguins are declining pretty fast, while Gentoo penguins are increasing". They say as climate change gets worse and melts parts of the Antarctic, the Danger Islands could become a critical penguin breeding ground. The lack of humans and effects from climate change may contribute to the super colony's ability to thrive on the Danger Islands. Polito said the publication of their study comes at just the right time to assist in that effort, as an global body that oversees Antarctica's wildlife resources is expected to review new refuge proposals in October.

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