The 1.5 million penguins were spotted on the Danger Islands, a chain of nine rocky islands off the Antarctic Peninsula’s tip, near South America.
The first bird census there found around 750,000 breeding pairs.
A team led by researchers from the US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported their discovery in the journal Scientific Reports.
Study co-author Heather Lynch said it had “real consequences for how we manage this region” and that “the Danger Islands weren’t known to be an important penguin habitat”.
This may have been because of their remoteness and the difficult waters that surround them: even in the summer, anyone trying to reach the islands can expect to deal with thick sea ice.
Four years ago, Ms Lynch teamed up with Mathew Schwaller from NASA and examined satellite images that hinted at a curiously large number of penguins in the area.
Determined to verify the find, she set out on an expedition with a team of researchers.
They arrived in December 2015 and counted the birds with the help of a drone that took pictures once every second.
The photos were then stitched together to give a comprehensive picture.
One of those on the expedition, Michael Polito, from Louisiana State University, said the islands “appear to have not suffered the population declines found along the western side of Antarctic Peninsula that are associated with recent climate change”.
Just 100 miles away, on the peninsula’s west, Adelie numbers have dropped by around 70% in recent decades due to melting sea ice, something blamed on global warming.
Ms Lynch said: “One of the ways in which this is good news is that other studies have shown this area (the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula) is likely to remain more stable under climate change than the western Antarctic Peninsula.
“So we end up with a large population of Adelie penguins in a region likely to remain suitable to them for some time.”
via The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF)
March 3, 2018 at 03:49AM