Published: Sun, March 04, 2018
Entertaiment | By Simon Arnold

A Lost 'Supercolony' Of Penguins Was Discovered In The Antarctic

A Lost 'Supercolony' Of Penguins Was Discovered In The Antarctic

"Not only do the Danger Islands hold the largest population of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, they also appear to have not suffered the population declines found along the western side of Antarctic Peninsula that are associated with recent climate change", Michael Polito, a co-author of the new study from Louisiana State University and a guest investigator at WHOI, said.

They arrived in December 2015 and counted the birds with the help of a drone that took pictures once every second. They found penguins nesting at the landing site, and beyond that a colony of an estimated 1.5 million Adélie penguins, a "hidden metropolis", writes Science Alert. But the images told an unmistakable story: there must be a significant penguin population visiting these islands.

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. "How did we miss this really obvious thing?"

Tom Hart, a penguin researcher at Oxford University, told the BBC: "It's a classic case of..."

Danger Islands expedition team members on Heroina Island, Danger Islands, Antarctica.

Ice melting reduces krill, the penguins' main food, and allows for more detrimental human activity, especially fisheries. As a result, only two chicks out of 18,000 pairs of Adelie penguins in east Antarctica survived the early 2017 breeding season.

The islands, which lie at the tip of Antarctica nearest South America, have rarely been visited, and the new discovery was thanks to Earth-monitoring satellites, the team from America, Britain and France, said. A new study led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), however, is providing new insights on of this species of penguin. The team counted them up with an assist from a quadcopter drone. When they got there, Polito said, they discovered even more penguins than they'd expected.

They then used a computer program to speed the counting process, and then were able to compare the area covered by the penguins and their nests with earlier satellite photos of the guano-stained islands, some dating back to the 1950s. And it's unlikely that birds from the nests on the western side of the peninsula have added to that stability by migrating to the safer environment, he said.

Eight or more major colonies of this species along the Antarctic Peninsula were believed to have vanished because of the changes in the annual ice conditions.

Now that scientists know where the Adélie Penguins are, they can also work to protect them.

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