Science

'Mega-colony' of 1.5m penguins discovered on Antarctica's remote Danger Islands

'Mega-colony' of 1.5m penguins discovered on Antarctica's remote Danger Islands

A team of worldwide scientists, including two from Louisiana State University, have discovered that 1.5 million Adelie penguins have been hidden in plain sight on the nine ice-covered and rocky outcrops that make up the Danger Islands on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The survey served to demonstrate the results of using satellite and drone imagery for environmental surveys.

"So we end up with a large population of Adelie penguins in a region likely to remain suitable to them for some time".

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. They tallied up the numbers by hand and used a modified quadcopter drone to capture images of the entire island from above.

"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", said Michael Polito, from Louisiana State University.

Researchers believe the Danger Islands will be an important breeding location for penguins under projected climate change, and that they deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region. Researchers, detailing the discovery in the journal Scientific Reports, say it is a total surprise.

The research team's December 2015 visit coincided with what is mid-summer in Antarctica, and at the islands, the average temperature hovered around 32 degrees, just at freezing, he said.

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

A medium-sized penguin, they grow to about 70 centimetres tall, and weigh three to six kilogrammes.

When the Landsat data originally suggested the presence of hundreds of thousands of penguins on the islands, Ms Lynch thought it "was a mistake". Well, the Danger Islands are fairly remote, even by Antarctica standards.

Then followed a field expedition for a census using a combination of drone footage, pictures taken on the ground, and an old fashioned walk-about headcount.

SCIENTISTS have discovered new "mega colonies" of penguins in Antarctica that contain millions of the flightless birds.

"The population of Adélies on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula is different from what we see on the west side, for example", said one of the authors, Stephanie Jenouvrier from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The authors note the importance of protecting the area under projected climate change.