New emperor penguin colonies discovered using satellites

Yolanda Curtis
August 7, 2020

The powerful satellite enabled the researchers to monitor existing colonies and discover the new ones quickly by scouring the images in search of "brown pixels", which would indicate penguin colonies.

"Emperor penguins, though adapted to the most extreme and remote frontier of our planet, now find themselves living on the frontline of the climate crisis".

Dr Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology at BAS - who has been studying penguins for the last three decades - said: "Whilst it's good news that we've found these new colonies, the breeding sites are all in locations where recent model projections suggest emperors will decline".

The colonies were revealed in a study using satellite mapping technology, which showed evidence of bird droppings in areas not previously known to be home to the animals.

Emperor penguins are exclusively reliant on sea-ice for breeding, which makes them vulnerable to the climate crisis.

"We need to watch these sites carefully as climate change will affect this region".

Several colonies were found on sea ice formed around icebergs in shallow water, up to 180 kilometers offshore, while three of the new breeding sites had previously been identified, although they had just been confirmed now.

"The [new colonies] are an exciting discovery", Peter Fretwell, a senior scientist at British Antarctic Survey, told The Guardian".

However, scientists have stated that all the new colonies are in areas that are at risk and will be the "canaries in the coal mine" with global warming increasingly affecting Antarctica.

The Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea due south of Cape Hope, normally sees up to 25,000 penguin pairs mate each year.

A boost to the dwindling emperor penguin population is good news, as emperor penguins are now classified as "Near Threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). "There's nothing we can do on a local level at each colony to help the penguins - it really is a global problem". New satellites make tracking the penguins easier as they can pick up smaller colonies. They live together in the Antarctic to keep their warm amid the icy climate where temperatures can be as low as -90C. They are the only penguin species to do so.

It means that now the total number of colonies is 61, with about half a million emperor penguins altogether.

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