Hidden colony of 1.5M penguins discovered on Antarctica's Danger Islands

Danger Islands Expedition Image

Scientists suspect that decline has something to do with reductions in sea-ice, which is an important habitat for krill, the small crustaceans that form a key part of the penguin diet.

It is also the only island to date with a population estimate (285,000-305,000) derived from a ground survey of the island.

There are more than 750,000 pairs of penguins living on the islands - 1.5 million animals in total - which is more than the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula combined. "In the Antarctic, distances are so vast, something major could be just around the corner and you wouldn't know".

Members of the expedition team arrived at the island in December 2015. Scientists in Antarctica have recently found a massive supercolony of penguins off of the coast of Antarctica, using drones.

Elsewhere in Antarctica where the climate is more volatile, penguin colonies are in decline.

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The team now want to get a better understanding of exactly what's causing the difference between the two populations, as well as set up policies to keep the Danger Islands protected. "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. Less sea ice on the western side of the peninsula has meant more research on those penguin colonies, which has resulted in clear evidence of their declining numbers, he said. Nevertheless, the penguins that nest on the western side of the peninsula are protected by the effects of the climate changes, thanks to the Waddell Sea, which is an icy area, which is another contributor to the difficulty in accessing the islands.

The penguins were discovered when a team of researchers mounted an expedition to investigate signs of nesting birds. There is no motivation behind why that couldn't occur to those on the east side also, and scientists will watch those penguins intently in the coming years.

The penguins remained well-hidden until Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the department of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University went on a trip on a cruise ship and stopped by the Danger Islands, which definitely live up to their name.

The Danger Islands are always covered with ice and even during the summer, the temperatures on the islands are favoring penguins proliferation.

'This is called the Danger Islands for a reason, ' explained Lynch. "Food availability? That's something we don't know", she says. "Sustenance accessibility? That is something we don't have the foggiest idea", she says.

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