'Supercolony' of 1.5 million Adelie penguins found in Antarctica

Peter Castro
March 5, 2018

A previously unknown "supercolony" of more than 1.5 million Adélie Penguins has been discovered in remote rocky islands of Antarctica.

In 2014, NASA researchers noticed an unusual amount of penguin droppings on the Danger Islands - a remote area that was not considered an important penguin habitat.

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. Indeed, even in the austral summer, the close-by sea is loaded with thick ocean ice, making it to a great degree hard to get to. It's believed climate change, including "changes in sea ice extent and concentration as well as changes in air temperature and precipitation patterns and their possible effects on prey availability" are the primary culprits for the decline in Adelie penguins in western Antarctica. 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.

In December 2015 a team of 10 scientists made the treacherous journey to the Danger Islands, on the edge of the Weddell Sea's oceanic vortex of sea ice. "More than that, I think it highlights the need for better protection of the West Antarctic Peninsula, where we are seeing declines".

Adélie penguins, who are most commonly known as the tuxedo penguins due to their distinctive look, are one of the most common penguin species.

Once the research team got confirmation via Landsat that the penguins likely populate the islands, they chose to try to make the trip and count the birds by hand.

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What's insane is that before this, no one really thought the remote rocky chain of islands off the Antarctic Peninsula's northwestern tip was home to penguins - let alone 1.5 million of them. One of the most common species of penguin on the Antarctic Peninsula, they play a vital role in the Antarctic food chain, states the WWF, feeding on tiny creatures like small fish and krill, and providing a source of food for leopard seals, killer whales and other predators.

Researchers estimate the Danger Islands hold the largest colonies of Adelie penguins in Antarctica and the third- and fourth-largest colonies in the world.

Singh developed the drone's imaging and navigation system and plans to use the images from the drone, to look for penguin nests, using a neural network software.

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".

The Danger Islands group was discovered thanks to Earth-monitoring satellites, said the research team from America, Britain and France.

The researchers said that the findings highlight the importance of protecting the area.

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