Featured Image Credit: Thomas Sayre-McCord/WHOI/MIT
Researchers have discovered a previously unknown “supercolony” of Adelie penguins in the remote Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. In total there were 751,527 breeding pairs or approximately 1.5 million penguins!
The huge colony was unknown because of their location on the Danger Islands, which are very remote and surrounded by thick sea ice. It’s the ideal habitat for the Adelie penguins because the area hasn’t been as affected by human activity and climate change as other parts of Antarctica.
So what led to the discovery? Satellite images showed guano stains on the land, indicating that a large population of penguins must live there. After that piece of information came to light, Professor Heather Lynch, an ecologist from Stony Brook University, saw the need to travel to the island to get a count of the birds.
They observed the birds from the ground and by air. With the aid of drones, researchers got an aerial view of the penguins and were able to count the breeding pairs. By flying in a grid over the island, the drone footage could be stitched together to show a 2D and 3D representation of the islands.
It’s been thought that the population of Adelie penguins has been on a steady decline, but the newly discovered colony gives researchers hope. Because such large numbers of penguins are thriving on Danger Islands, untouched by humans, it serves as evidence that penguin populations are best left undisturbed. This evidence will back up the calls for a protected area in the Weddell Sea, where the densely populated Danger Islands are located.
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