March 4, 2018 4:22 pm

Scientists discovered a super-colony of 1.5M penguins thanks to NASA satellite images

WATCH ABOVE: A previously unknown 'supercolony' of penguins has been discovered in the remote Danger Islands of Antarctica. Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered the massive colony of over 1.5 million Adélie penguins, a species previously thought to be on the decline.

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Here’s a sentence you perhaps never thought you’d read: a super-colony of more than one million penguins has been discovered off the Antarctic Peninsula’s northern tip after NASA satellite imagery revealed large amounts of penguin poop in the area.

Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), who released their study on March 2, discovered the massive colony of over 1.5 million Adélie penguins, a species previously thought to be on the decline, in Antarctica’s remote Danger Islands.

Quadcopter aerial imagery of Adélie penguin breeding colonies on Heroina Island, Danger Islands (Thomas Sayre McChord, Hanumant Singh, Northeastern University, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Thomas Sayre McChord, Hanumant Singh, Northeastern University, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

According to WHOI, the Danger Islands weren’t thought to be a significant penguin habitat until now. This may have to do with the inaccessibility of the islands themselves, which are surrounded by sea ice even in the summer, making travel by ships exceedingly difficult in the region. For this reason, penguin activity there largely went unnoticed.

“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,” said Michael Polito, one of the researchers from Louisiana State University.

Quadcopter aerial imagery of Adélie penguin breeding colonies on Heroina Island, Danger Islands, Antarctica

Thomas Sayre McChord, Hanumant Singh, Northeastern University, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

One year following the satellite discovery, a team was sent to investigate. Through the use of drone technology, they were able to observe a colony of over a million penguins living in the remote island chain.

“The drone lets you fly in a grid over the island, taking pictures once per second. You can then stitch them together into a huge collage that shows the entire landmass in 2D and 3D,” said Hanumant Singh, Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University, who developed the drone’s imaging and navigation system.

An Adélie penguin and quadcopter on Brash Island, Danger Islands, Antarctica

Credit: Rachael Herman, Louisiana State University, © Stony Brook University

The study states that uncovering the penguin super-colony could contribute to evidence supporting proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) near the Antarctic Peninsula, said Mercedes Santos, from the Instituto Antártico Argentino, one of the lead authors on the region’s MPA proposal (she is not affiliated with the study).

“Given that MPA proposals are based in the best available science, this publication helps to highlight the importance of this area for protection,” she said.

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