Danger Island, Antartica.
It sounds like somewhere you’d find Dr Evil’s latest secret lair but scientists have found something a little different.
An estimated 1.5 million (holds pinkie up to lip) Adelie penguins have been discovered by researchers on the tiny area. How did they find them I hear you ask? You’ll never guess. Their brightly coloured poop was spotted from a satellite!!! Several years later, researchers undertook an expedition to the area to see what was causing this colour deviation and found the mass group of waddling underwater fliers. Researchers then used a specially adapted drone to get a better view of just how many there are.
“The drone lets you fly in a grid over the island, taking pictures once per second. You can then stitch them together into a huge collage that shows the entire landmass in 2D and 3D,”
Hanumant Singh, Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University and co-principal investigator on the study.
Temperatures in the area are around -10 degrees Celsius throughout the year so its a bit nippy but the super-colony are thriving. Yet only 100 miles away in the west Antarctic, the exact same species are in decline due to rapidly changing temperatures and the ice floats melting, leaving them nowhere to rest and thus becoming easy prey for sea lions and other wildlife.
Study co-author Heather Lynch described the discovery as “surprising”, particularly due to the remoteness of the islands where the penguins were found.
“This is called the Danger Islands for a reason,” Lynch said.
“The area is covered by heavy sea ice most of the year, and even in the height of summer it is difficult to get into this region to do surveys.”
Evidence of the penguins’ existence first emerged in data from Landsat Earth-monitoring satellites, which are run by NASA and the US Geological Survey.
Once the data was received, Lynch and her team looked at higher-resolution commercial imagery.
The data seemed to suggest that there were hundreds of thousands of penguins living on these islands, which Lynch initially thought “was a mistake”.
“We were surprised to find so many penguins on these islands, especially because some of these islands were not known to have penguins.
“We were…very lucky to have a window of time where the sea ice moved out and we could get a yacht in.”
Lynch, who works at the Stony Brook University in New York, said the find will help create new Marine Protected Areas in the region.
“Now that we know this tiny island group is so important, it can be considered for further protection,” she explained.
Rod Downie, at WWF, said: “This exciting discovery shows us just how much more there still is to learn about this amazing and iconic species of the ice. But it also reinforces the urgency to protect Antarctic waters from the dual threats of overfishing and climate change.”
Video of the drones flight: