Huge “mega-colonies” of penguins have been discovered near the Antarctic peninsula, hosting more than 1.5 million birds. Researchers say it shows the area is a vital refuge from climate change and human activities and should be protected by a vast new marine wildlife reserve currently under consideration.
The huge numbers of Adélie penguins were found on the Danger Islands in the Weddell Sea, on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a difficult place to reach and has seldom been visited. But scientists, prompted by satellite images, mounted an expedition and used on-the-ground counts and aerial photography from drones to reveal 751,527 pairs of penguins.
The researchers then examined satellite images going back to 1959 and believe the colony has been stable over that time. In contrast, Adélie colonies to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula, where the impact of climate change and human activity are much greater, are in decline.
“This was an incredible experience, finding and counting so many penguins,” said Tom Hart, at the University of Oxford and part of the international research team.’
Photo: Jason Auch/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)