Researchers discover hidden supercolony of 1.5 million penguins

Mar 03, 2018, 03:25
Researchers discover hidden supercolony of 1.5 million penguins

Scientists have just announced the discovery of a "supercolony" of Adélie penguins off the Antarctic Peninsula, which have lived undisturbed for almost 60 years.

Located off the Antarctic Peninsula's northern tip, these islands are both incredibly remote and surrounded by thick sea ice.

"Despite our modern technologically advanced world there are still remote corners that we know very little about - usually because they are extremely hard to get to", he said.

Further study the supercolony will help the team better understand Adélies across the region."The population of Adélies on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula is different from what we see on the west side, for example".

A drone image of penguins in the Danger Islands.

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The team performed a census of penguins on the islands using multiple methods, ultimately finding 751,527 pairs; this is the largest population of its kind in the Antarctica Peninsula. "Our results validate the use of Landsat medium-resolution satellite imagery for the detection of new or unknown penguin colonies and highlight the utility of combining satellite imagery with ground and UAV surveys".

"The most important implication of this work is related to the design of Marine Protected Areas in the region", said Ms Lynch.

In the research paper, the scientists recommend that the islands be classified as a "penguin hotspot of significant conservation value", and that the area be given refuge status.

Now, researchers think parts of the islands should be considered for protected areas.

Then the island went on the expedition that discovered hundreds of thousands of penguins. And when they sent up a drone to take pictures, they were surprised to find more than 1.5 million penguins living there.

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Scientists were "very lucky to have a window of time where the sea ice moved out and we could get a yacht in", said Ms Lynch. That's more than the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula combined.

"Until recently, the Danger Islands weren't known to be an important penguin habitat", said Heather Lynch, an ecologist at Stony Brook University who was one of the senior authors on the study. Clearly climate change and reduction in ice and krill play a part, but a decline in sea-ice also allows in shipping - fisheries in particular - which may exacerbate the problem.

"This exciting discovery shows us just how much more there still is to learn about this fantastic and iconic species of the ice", Rod Downie, head of polar programmes at WWF told The Independent.

"But it also reinforces the urgency to protect the waters off the coast of Antarctica to safeguard Adélie penguins from the dual threats of overfishing and climate change".

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