Scientists find a previously unknown mega-colony of penguins on Antarctic islands

03 March, 2018, 04:57 | Author: Devin Moran
  • Danger Islands Expedition Image

Numbering more than 1.5 million birds, they were first noticed when great patches of their poo, or guano, showed up in pictures taken from space.

Not only is this an incredible reminder that we still have so much yet to uncover about the planet we live in, it also provides scientists with hope.

Dr Hart commented: "On the West Antarctic Peninsula, Adelie and chinstrap penguins are declining pretty fast, while Gentoo penguins are increasing".

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.

Plans are in place to expand the area to a 70,000 square miles (1.8 million square km) - or five times the size of Germany.

The incredible discovery was captured using a video drone, which snapped the countless birds on their remote and risky island home from the air. There's a lot of them there.

The Adélie penguins from above.

A 2015 expedition discovered a massive number of birds.

The data seemed to suggest that there were hundreds of thousands of penguins living on this islands, which Lynch initially thought "was a mistake".


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. It is a huge number of penguins. "Here we report on a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance identified in the Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP)".

"The results of our study indicate that 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 populations declines found along the western side of Antarctic Peninsula that are associated with recent climate change", Polito said.

Giant "mega-colonies" of penguins have been discovered among the remote islands of Antarctica, easing fears their numbers had been in decline for decades due to climate change.

Researchers aren't certain about why this penguin super colony has remained stable and strong for so long, but they have their suspicions.

"Whether they'll be in or out, we don't know but at least now the people making those decisions will understand how important this area is", she told BBC News.

"The area is covered by heavy sea ice most of the year, and even in the height of summer it is hard to get into this region to do surveys".

The team now want to get a better understanding of exactly what's causing the difference between the two populations, as well as set up policies to keep the Danger Islands protected.

Rod Downie, at WWF, said: "This exciting discovery shows us just how much more there still is to learn about this wonderful and iconic species of the ice".

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