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

04 March 2018, 02:04 | Hattie Nash

Previously unknown 'supercolony' of Adélie penguins discovered in Antarctica

Danger Islands Expedition Image

The researchers went for an on-foot exploration and revealed that the Danger Islands host more than 750,000 pairs of Adelie penguins, representing the largest population in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Scientists from Oxford University were part of an worldwide team searching for images taken by the Landsat satellites to locate possible large numbers of penguin by identifying the mess they leave behind.

Michael Polito, one of the researchers from Louisiana State University, said he was amazed by the number of penguins he saw.

At the point when the gathering landed in December 2015, they discovered countless winged animals settling in the rough soil, and promptly began to count up their numbers by hand. Even in the southern summer the surrounding ocean is filled with near inaccessible thick sea ice. At two penguins per average nest, that's a whopping 1,503,054 previously undiscovered birds - 20 per cent of the creature's known global population.

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The story of how scientists discovered a massive "supercolony" of Adélie penguins in Antarctica-which they detailed in a study published Friday (March 2)-begins in 2014, with NASA satellite imagery.

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. They found penguins nesting at the landing site, and beyond that a colony of an estimated 1.5 million Adélie penguins, a "hidden metropolis", writes Science Alert. That translates to about 1.5 million Adélie penguins, or roughly 20% of the total population of penguins in Antarctica.

Biologists believed that the Adélie penguin population on the Antarctic Peninsula had been slowly declining for the past four decades, but it turns out the little fellas were just better at hiding than anyone imagined. "We present the first complete census of Pygoscelis spp. penguins in the Danger Islands, estimated from a multi-modal survey consisting of direct ground counts and computer-automated counts of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery". "You can then stitch them together into a huge collage that shows the entire landmass in 2D and 3D", says co-PI Hanumant Singh, Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University. "But we didn't know what was going on on the eastern side, because it's a very icy place that's hard to get to". The researchers also used a software to do the counting. Clearly climate change and reduction in ice and krill play a part, but a decline in sea-ice also allows in shipping - fisheries in particular - which may exacerbate the problem.

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