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Supercolony Of Penguins Discovered On Antarctic Island

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Supercolony Of Penguins Discovered On Antarctic Island

While we battle through some Arctic conditions of our own here in the UK, a previously undiscovered 'supercolony' of Adélie penguins has been found on the ominously named Danger Islands in Antarctica.

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Nestling just off the Antarctic Peninsula's northern tip, these islands are both incredibly remote and surrounded by thick sea ice - conditions that have allowed the penguins to evade detection by us human beings until now.

The penguins were discovered when a team of researchers mounted an expedition to investigate signs of nesting birds.

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"Until recently, the Danger Islands weren't known to be an important penguin habitat," said Professor Heather Lynch, an ecologist at Stony Brook University who co-led the work.

But that all changed when scientists discovered - for want of a better expression - massive piles of penguin poo on satellite images taken of the area.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Curious, professor Lynch led a team to check out the potential penguin colony first hand, using drones to get an aerial view of the location.

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"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 Professor Hanumant Singh, an engineer at Northeastern University who developed the drone's imaging and navigation system.

In total, the team logged 751,527 different pairs of penguins living on the islands. That's more than the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula combined.

Up until now, the Adélie penguin population was thought to be in decline, but the location of this particular colony has enabled it to thrive in spite of climate change.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA
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"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 Professor Polito.

"It puts the east Antarctic Peninsula in stark contrast to the Adélie and chinstrap penguin declines that we are seeing on the west Antarctic Peninsula," said Dr Tom Hart, a penguin researcher at the University of Oxford.

"It's not clear what the driver of those declines is yet; the candidates are climate change, fishing and direct human disturbance, but it does show the size of the problem."

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

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"But it also reinforces the urgency to protect the waters off the coast of Antarctica to safeguard Adélie penguins from the dual threats of overfishing and climate change."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Antarctica, penguins, Animals

Paddy Maddison
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