Space photos help find 1.5 million penguins

by Edgar Hayes March 3, 2018, 4:58
Space photos help find 1.5 million penguins

The team published its findings online Friday in the Scientific Reports journal.

"Is certainly surprising and it has real consequences for how we manage this region", explained Heather Lynch, the study's author and a researcher at the Stony Brook University.

However, the Danger Islands are notoriously hard to reach, with large slabs of sea-ice floating around the archipelago even in summer, making it hazardous for shipping. But, these very characteristics of the island made the nearly impossible to be directly studied by men and no one has adventured there.

After heading to the remote island in December 2015 to investigate, the professors, along with a seabird ecologist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in MA and other experts, said they found hundreds of thousands of birds nesting in the rocky soil. At first, the scientists considered the Landsat images were a mistake or error of some kind but researchers went for a field exploration.

They then used a computer program to speed the counting process, and then were able to compare the area covered by the penguins and their nests with earlier satellite photos of the guano-stained islands, some dating back to the 1950s.

What's insane is that before this, no one really thought the remote rocky chain of islands off the Antarctic Peninsula's northwestern tip was home to penguins - let alone 1.5 million of them.

The Danger Islands are on the eastern side of the northernmost point of the peninsula, and while that means the area might be subject to warmer temperatures, Polito said that the warming trend seems to be buffered by their location on the edge of the Weddell Sea.

"The drone lets you fly in a grid over the island, taking pictures once per second". Declines in colonies in other parts of the Antarctic have been in regions associated with a relatively large human presence and negative impacts from climate change.

Dr Hart told the BBC: 'On the West Antarctic Peninsula, Adelie and chinstrap penguins are declining pretty fast, while Gentoo penguins are increasing.

Not only is this an incredible reminder that we still have so much yet to uncover about the planet we live in, it also provides scientists with hope. That's more than the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula combined.

"It's not clear what the driver of those declines is yet; the candidates are climate change, fishing and direct human disturbance, but it does show the size of the problem".

"We want to understand why". It's also the middle of the breeding season for penguins, which helped in counting them.

"We were.very lucky to have a window of time where the sea ice moved out and we could get a yacht in".

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