March 21, 2018

Drones helped discover a supercolony of 1.5 million Adélie penguins

04 March 2018, 02:04 | Ruben Fields

Amazing drone pics reveal MILLIONS of penguins in Antarctic 'mega-colonies'


Scientists have found another 1.5 million penguins living in Antarctica.

It is also the only island to date with a population estimate (285,000-305,000) derived from a ground survey of the island.

'Until recently, the Danger Islands weren't known to be an important penguin habitat, ' said Heather Lynch, associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University. "In the Antarctic, distances are so vast, something major could be just around the corner and you wouldn't know".

The team arrived in December 2015 and got to counting. They arranged an expedition out to the islands to find and count the colony, taking with them a modified commercial quadcopter drone so they could aerial capture images of the entire island.

Scientists had thought that this type of penguin species was declining.

The penguins live on a tiny cluster of islands at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Singh helped scientists develop the imaging software. "But with only two hours on land it was impossible to estimate the size of the population before sea ice conditions forced us to leave".

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"It's kind of awesome that there's been this really large number of penguins breeding on these small islands in a remote part of Antarctica that sort of slipped under the radar for so long", co-author Michael Polito, an oceanography professor at Louisiana State University, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 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.

Ms Lynch said: "One of the ways in which this is good news is that other studies have shown this area (the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula) is likely to remain more stable under climate change than the western Antarctic Peninsula". He also uses satellites to identify and count animal groups.

"The water around the island boiled with penguins", said Polito.

Upon arrival, they found a few thousand penguins and used a drone to fly over the island chain to take pictures.

"We want to understand why".

"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.

Evidence of the previously-unknown penguin colony first emerged in data from the Landsat Earth-monitoring satellites run by NASA and the US Geological Survey. Polito said the publication of their study comes at just the right time to assist in that effort, as an worldwide body that oversees Antarctica's wildlife resources is expected to review new refuge proposals in October.

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