By Jack Williams
In a stunning discovery, footage has shown that a new “supercolony” of penguins whose species was believed to be declining over the past 40 years.
Scientists discovered more than ONE-AND-A-HALF MILLION Adelie penguins in the Danger Islands, a remote chain of rocky islands of the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The drone footage captured by members of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) shows an incredible mass of black dots sprinkled across the island, which, for decades, were thought not to be home to many Adelie’s, due to their remoteness and the treacherous waters that surround them.
The stunning annoucement was made on Friday, March 2, 2018, after years of research.
In 2014, Heather Lynch, an associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, and colleague, Mathew Schwaller, discovered stains on NASA satellite images, hinting at the possibility that there may be penguins on the islands.
Lynch, along with scientists from the WHOI, Louisiana State University, and Oxford University, headed to the islands in December 2015, where they came across hundreds of thousands of nesting birds.
Having tallied the numbers by hand, the team then flew a drone over the islands, allowing them to get a clearer picture of the number of penguins they were dealing with.
Hanumant Singh, co-PI and a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University, who developed the drone’s imaging and navigation system, said: “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.”
From the drone footage, the team were then able to use software to analyze the population dynamics anonymously.
This discovery, they hope, will provide more insight into the impact of changing temperatures on ecology in the region, as well as protection in the area.
Mike Polito, of Louisiana State University and a guest investigator at WHOI, said: “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.”
Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist at WHOI, said: “The population of Adelies on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula is different from what we see on the west side, for example.
“We want to understand why. Is it linked to the extended sea ice condition over there? Food availability? That’s something we don’t know.”