Satellite imagery has uncovered a ‘supercolony’ of more than 1.5 million Adélie penguins nesting among a chain of remote Antartic islands, raising hope for a species that was thought to have been in decline for decades.
The birds had previously gone undetected due to the remoteness of the Danger Islands, which are surrounded by treacherous waters and thick sea ice, making it difficult to access.
However, after being tipped off by NASA, researchers at Stony Brook University used a modified drone to take images of the entire area before tallying up the penguins one by one.
The discovery increases the region’s known Adélie penguin population by 70%, and will allow conservations to better design marine protected areas for the animals.
It remains unclear, however, why the penguins have been able to thrive in the region, with climate change causing their population to decline steadily over the past 40 years.
“Is it linked to the extended sea ice condition over there? Food availability? That’s something we don’t know,” commented Stephanie Jenouvier, seabird ecologist at Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute.
Image credit: Getty