Accidental Discovery from Space Reveals New Emperor Penguin Colony!

A recently found emperor penguin colony has now been identified using satellite photographs of one of Antarctica’s most remote & inaccessible places.

There are currently 66 documented emperor penguin colonies along Antarctica’s coastline, half of which were found by satellites. The colony, which is a habitat to approximately 500 birds, brings the number to 66. These colonies are facing an imminent crisis from the climate issue as the sea ice is melting quickly.

The research’s lead researcher, Dr. Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey, called the finding “exciting.” However, this colony is smaller and located in an area that has been severely impacted with current sea ice loss, identical to many of the previously discovered sites.

How did the satellite find the colonies? 

Emperor penguins represent the only of their kind that reproduces on sea ice rather than on land, and because they live in remote, inhospitable locations that can experience temperatures as cold as – 60C, they are very challenging to study. British Antarctic Survey (BAS) researchers have been searching satellite data for telltale brown droppings a.k.a penguin poo on the glacier for the last 15 years in order to find new colonies.

The most recent colony was found at Verleger Point in west Antarctica using photos from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite program of the European Commission, and it was later confirmed with high-quality photographs from the Maxar WorldView-3 satellite. 

Global warming directly affects these colonies

Penguins are extremely susceptible to climate change because they depend on ice to survive from Apr. to Sept. so that the females have time to grow physically strong. According to Fretwell, if the ice breaks before all this, the chicks will tumble into the water & either drown or freeze.

These birds cluster together for safety from winter storms, especially during the 2 month period when the male penguin incubates the eggs until they hatch, the size of colonies also directly affects their survival.

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Sea ice changes have already resulted in the loss of colonies, including one in Halley Bay which was steady for 50 years, and another in Marguerite Bay which was researched since the 1940s. Fretwell remarked, ‘What we’re doing on the opposite side of the planet is slowly killing them. Many emperor penguins would never encounter a person in their lifetime.

The significant changes in Antarctica’s sea ice since 2015 have been accelerating. The sea ice conditions in Antarctica were at their worst-ever levels last year, and they are considerably worse this year, according to Fretwell. It’s not good, and we’re still figuring out what it means for penguins.

By the end of the century, 90% of known colonies, according to an earlier study, will have vanished if more is not done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And Fretwell claimed that, other than reducing global warming, there was very little to be done to lessen this damage. We may try to protect the penguins’ feeding grounds by outlawing fishing, he said. However, as this is a global issue, a local perspective is not relevant.

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