Scientists discover penguin 'super-colony' in Antarctic

Alan Olson
March 4, 2018

When he arrived, he spotted penguin nests, and since then he has known that he discovered something big on the islands. And how do you find 1.5 million penguins?

While we battle through some Arctic conditions of our own here in the United Kingdom, a previously undiscovered "supercolony" of Adélie penguins has been found on the ominously named Danger Islands in Antarctica.

The discovery cements the idea that climate change was behind the decline of penguin populations on the western side of the peninsula, Polito said. That's a lot of penguins.

Of course, Polito knew that he couldn't count the penguins by hand, as the counting would be inaccurate and extremely hard. While a previous geological expedition30 noted the presence of Adélie penguins on all of the Dangers Islands (with the exception of Darwin Island, which was not visited), the presence of Adélie penguins on several of these islands went largely unrecognized until a recent Landsat satellite survey of the Antarctic identified several large penguin colonies supporting what appeared to be almost 200,000 Adélie penguin nests.

With the use of drone technology, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) discovered a supercolony of 1.5 million Adélie penguins living in the Danger Islands, which are a chain of remote and rocky islands off the Antarctic Peninsula's northern tip.

This may have been due to their remoteness and the hard waters that surround them: even in the summer, anyone trying to reach the islands can expect to deal with thick sea ice.

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However, in 2014, while analysing Nasa's existing satellite images of the islands, Lynch and Nasa's Mathew Schwaller found tell-tale poop stains, indicating the presence of a mysteriously large number of penguins in the area.

A 2015 expedition discovered a massive number of birds.

"They would essentially mow the lawn, flying across these islands and taking pictures, and we knew we'd have all these images that we would stitch together", Polito explained. A medium-sized penguin, they grow to about 70 centimetres tall, and weigh three to six kilogrammes. Nevertheless, when Polito visited the islands, the ice appeared to be low.

It is called the Danger Islands because the area is covered with ice throughout the year.

Having the capacity to get a precise include of the feathered creatures this supercolony offers a significant benchmark for future change, also, notes Jenouvrier. Less sea ice on the western side of the peninsula has meant more research on those penguin colonies, which has resulted in clear evidence of their declining numbers, he said. We need to comprehend why.

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