1.5 million penguin 'supercolony' discovered in Antarctica


This species of flightless marine bird has been enduring a shrinking population as a result of habitat destruction caused by global warming, amid rising water temperatures around the planet's poles and a subsequent melting of ice that has left the birds homeless. But what type were they, and for what reason did they go there? To discover without a doubt, Lynch cooperated with Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird environmentalist at WHOI, Mike Polito at LSU and Tom Hart at Oxford University to mastermind a campaign to the islands with the objective of tallying the winged creatures firsthand.

Once the research team got confirmation via Landsat that the penguins likely populate the islands, they chose to try to make the trip and count the birds by hand. They reconfigured a commercial quadcopter drone to fly over the islands taking one photo per second, and those images were were analyzed by neural network software.

What they found was incredible. While a previous geological expedition30 noted the presence of Adélie penguins on all of the Dangers Islands (with the exception of Darwin Island, which was not visited), the presence of Adélie penguins on several of these islands went largely unrecognized until a recent Landsat satellite survey of the Antarctic identified several large penguin colonies supporting what appeared to be almost 200,000 Adélie penguin nests.

In total, the team logged 751,527 different pairs of penguins living on the islands. This discovery means these islands include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world. The newly discovered penguin population cannot only provide more insight on the dynamics of penguin population, but also on the impact of changing temperature and sea ice on the region.

'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, ' he said.

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For years, scientists thought Adélie penguins - one of the most common species in the Antarctic Peninsula - faced a population decline.

"We want to understand why".

"We were.very lucky to have a window of time where the sea ice moved out and we could get a yacht in".

"Now that we know this tiny island group is so important, it can be considered for further protection", she explained.

"If we look at the future projections of climate change and the pace of climate change, even areas like the Danger Islands have the potential to be negatively affected", he said.