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Massive penguin 'supercolony' found on remote islands

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Sunday, March 4, 2018, 8:44 PM - In a welcome surprise for conservationists, scientists have announced the discovery of a previously unknown 'supercolony' of Adélie penguins in Antarctica.

In a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers say a survey of the Danger Islands, near the tip of the continent's Antarctic Peninsula, found some 751,527 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins, for a total of around 1.5 million individuals. The survey was carried out using several methods, including ground counts and computer analysis of drone imagery.

"The Danger Islands appear to have avoided recent declines documented on the Western [Antarctic Peninsula] and, because they are large and likely to remain an important hotspot for avian abundance under projected climate change, deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region," the researchers wrote.

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The researchers say the massive colony was unknown not just due to the islands' remoteness, but also because the waters around them are dangerous and difficult to navigate, with chunks of sea ice lingering well into the Antarctic summer.

However, they began to suspect the islands may have been host to the hitherto unknown penguin horde when they examined 2014 orbital photos and found "telltale guano stains," according to a release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Aside from the fact the new find bolsters the case for establishing new marine protected areas in the region, the researchers say the supercolony gives them a frame of reference to monitor future changes.

"The population of Adélies on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula is different from what we see on the west side, for example. We want to understand why," Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist at the institute, said in a release. "Is it linked to the extended sea ice condition over there? Food availability? That’s something we don’t know."

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SOURCE: Thumbnail image license | Scientific Reports | Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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