Published: Sat, March 03, 2018
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1.5m penguins discovered on remote Antarctic islands

1.5m penguins discovered on remote Antarctic islands

For years, scientists thought Adélie penguins - one of the most common species in the Antarctic Peninsula - faced a population decline.

In a paper released Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists announced the discovery of this previously unknown supercolony. It's locked up in sea ice most of the year, and even in summer it's hard to reach. But, these very characteristics of the island made the nearly impossible to be directly studied by men and no one has adventured there.

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. At first, the scientists considered the Landsat images were a mistake or error of some kind but researchers went for a field exploration. Counting them by hand and using drone surveys they found there were 751,527 pairs of penguins on the islands - more than the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula combined.

However, this supercolony were found on the rocky and remote Danger Islands after NASA satellites picked up patches of their excrement, known as guano, in 2014. The lack of humans and effects from climate change may contribute to the super colony's ability to thrive on the Danger Islands.

The scientists used an algorithm to search images from the American Landsat spacecraft for sites of possible penguin activity.

"The drone lets you fly in a grid over the island, taking pictures once per second".

"I think the biggest question this study asks is, how could 1.5 million penguins be hiding in plain sight?" said Hanumant Singh, a Northeastern University professor who oversaw the robotics and imaging portions of the study. This suggests a large number of penguins in the area, so they arranged an expedition to the island with the objective of counting the birds.

She said the supercolonies have undetected for decades because of the remoteness of the islands and the treacherous waters that surround them.

The Danger Islands are on the eastern side of the northernmost point of the peninsula, and while that means the area might be subject to warmer temperatures, Polito said that the warming trend seems to be buffered by their location on the edge of the Weddell Sea.

Rod Downie, at WWF, said: "This exciting discovery shows us just how much more there still is to learn about this unbelievable and iconic species of the ice".

"Whether they'll be in or out, we don't know but at least now the people making those decisions will understand how important this area is", she told BBC News.

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