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Penguin super-colony spotted from space
03 March 2018, 03:21 | Gerardo Harmon
Penguin super-colony spotted from space
The scientists who have discovered the hidden 1.5 million penguins "supercolony" admitted that the Danger Islands have never been considered suitable for penguins colonies but since these islands were affected less by the global warming in comparison with the rest of Antarctica, this discovery makes sense.
The scientists used an algorithm to search images from the American Landsat spacecraft for sites of possible penguin activity.
"Basically these islands were covered in penguins", Michael Polito, an assistant professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University and coauthor of the paper, told BuzzFeed News.
Satellite images of the island chain didn't reveal penguins themselves, but researchers were able to pick out the telltale signs of a large colony - large guano stains.
Dr. Heather Lynch of New York's Stony University described their surprise: "The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away".
However, in December 2015, the team did manage to get on the ground to begin its count.
'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 drone lets you fly in a grid over the island, taking pictures once per second". "More sea ice means more food for krill and more protection for krill, especially small krill", a key food source for the penguins.
Researchers said they have found "a major hotspot of abundance" of penguins in the region, where colonies, particularly in western Antarctica, had thought to have been in decline for many years.
A drone image of penguins in the Danger Islands.
"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 Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. "Finally getting into the Danger Islands and counting the penguins shows how robust populations are where the ice is intact". It's also the middle of the breeding season for penguins, which helped in counting them.
"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. "I am sure that there are many other natural discoveries to be made using these "eyes in the sky".
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