Previously Unknown Mega-Colony of Penguins Found on Antarctica's Danger Islands

03 March, 2018, 00:42 | Author: Rosalie Gross
  • Danger Islands Antarctica penguin penguins Adélie penguin Adélie penguins

Speaking to AFP, study co-author Heather Lynch described the discovery as "surprising", particularly due to the remoteness of the islands where the penguins were found.

"We were surprised to find so many penguins on these islands, especially because some of these islands were not known to have penguins".

That was no easy feat; even at its warmest, these waters are full of thick sea ice that makes it hard for ships to make it through.

Scientists discovered this previously unknown "supercolony" of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands, a set of remote, icy islands on the northeastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, according to a study released Friday. 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. Using neural network analysis of drone images they took of the colony, the scientists were able to determine the size of the population, as well as how changing temperatures and sea ice are impacting the island ecosystem.

The group of nine rocky islands, which lie off the northern tip nearest South America, in the northwest Weddell Sea, housed the third- and fourth-largest Adelie penguin colonies in the world, they found.

An expedition was organised in December 2015 where the team saw the colonies for themselves and used drones to record overhead views.

Danger Islands Antarctica penguin penguins Adélie penguin Adélie penguins dive jump
Penguin super-colony spotted from space

750,000 mating pairs are there-a total of 1.5 million penguins; when the team studied ariel photographs since 1957, it appears that the population has been stable since at least then. It now calls the Danger Islands a "seabird hotspot".

Dr Tom Hart, a researcher at Oxford's Department of Zoology, explained: "This was an incredible experience, finding and counting so many penguins".

The researchers were working based on satellite imagery captured by NASA in 2014, that itself hinting at the existence of large penguin colonies on the Antarctic Danger Islands.

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

It will also lend valuable evidence for supporting proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) near the Antarctic Peninsula, adds Mercedes Santos, from the Instituto Antártico Argentino (who is not affiliated with this study but is one of the authors of the MPA proposal) with the Commission for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an worldwide panel that decides on the placement of MPAs.

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