LSU Professor co-authors study on Antarctic Penguin 'Super-Colonies'

  • LSU Professor co-authors study on Antarctic Penguin 'Super-Colonies'

LSU Professor co-authors study on Antarctic Penguin 'Super-Colonies'

An global team led by scientists from the University of Oxford (United Kingdom) has discovered a colony formed by more than 1.5 million penguins in the Danger Islands, in the Weddell Sea, in the Eastern Antarctica Peninsula. "If what we see is true, it will be one of the largest colonies of Adelie penguins in the world and it will be worth it, so we sent an expedition there in order to correctly count". But what type were they, and for what reason did they go there?

"It's kind of unbelievable that there's been this really large number of penguins breeding on these small islands in a remote part of Antarctica that sort of slipped under the radar for so long", co-author Michael Polito, an oceanography professor at Louisiana State University, told As It Happens host Carol Off. Piecing the photos together later, they were able to clearly count the black back of penguins atop nests in comparison to the light-colored land below them.

What they found was incredible. While a previous geological expedition30 noted the presence of Adélie penguins on all of the Dangers Islands (with the exception of Darwin Island, which was not visited), the presence of Adélie penguins on several of these islands went largely unrecognized until a recent Landsat satellite survey of the Antarctic identified several large penguin colonies supporting what appeared to be almost 200,000 Adélie penguin nests. One of the most common species of penguin on the Antarctic Peninsula, they play a vital role in the Antarctic food chain, states the WWF, feeding on tiny creatures like small fish and krill, and providing a source of food for leopard seals, killer whales and other predators.

Counting the number of penguins on the Danger Islands provides scientists with an important reference point for future change. He also designed algorithms to scan the collected images and identify the location of penguin nesting sites.

Using multiple simultaneous counts on the ground, quadcopter-based aerial photography and high-resolution satellite imagery they found that the Danger Islands have 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of the entire Antarctic Peninsula region combined.

"We want to understand why". Is it connected to the expanded ocean ice condition over yonder?

A breakthrough discovery of this scale offers ecologists hope: Even in the age of Google Earth, maybe we don't know our planet as well as we think we do. "But it also reinforces the urgency to protect Antarctic waters from the dual threats of overfishing and climate change".