Scientists have recently discovered a previously-unknown, 1.5 million-bird-strong, penguin colony hidden in plain sight in the remote Danger Islands in Antarctica – more than the rest of the entire Antarctic Peninsula combined.
This discovery is amazing for two reasons. The first is that it reminds us of how much we are you to uncover about our world, and the second is that it has given scientists hope for the Adelie penguin species, which was previously believed to be in rapid decline due to climate change.
The Danger Islands were not previously believed to contain any significant penguin populations, let alone contain one that’s 1.5 million-strong. The so-called supercolony’s location is incredibly remote, and the islands themselves are surrounded by thick sea ice. As a result, they’re somewhat protected from the effects of climate change and human activity.
Researchers first discovered the colony after NASA satellite images spotted the islands’ coastlines covered in penguin guano, which is a clear sign of their presence. An expedition was launched the following year to find out exactly what was going on.
To their amazement, there were hundreds of thousands of penguins on the islands. Counting them by hand and drone surveys found that there were no less than 751,527 pairs of penguins, which is more than live on the Antarctic Peninsula.
What’s more is that the penguin colony doesn’t appear to have suffered any population declines similar to the ones found in populations along the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was important for researchers to take an accurate count of the number of penguins in order for them to have a future reference point from which to monitor population growth or decline.
Researchers don’t quite know why this particular penguin population is thriving relative to the others on the western side of the peninsula that are declining, but they think it might be related to increased food availability.
Nevertheless, the exciting discovery shows that there is still much to learn about the icy wilderness that is the Antarctic, as well as the Adelie penguin species. The finding also reinforces the urgency to protect the waters off Antarctica's coast.