Fantastic drone pics reveal MILLIONS of penguins in Antarctic 'mega-colonies'

A tiny group of islands in the Antarctic ocean called the Danger Islands are home to nearly 1.5 million penguins. A tiny group of islands in the Antarctic ocean called the Danger Islands are home to nearly 1.5 million penguins

"Not only do the Danger Islands hold the largest population of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, they also appear to have not suffered the population declines found along the western side of Antarctic Peninsula that are associated with recent climate change", says study co-author Michael Polito, a marine biologist at Louisiana State University.

The researchers, who detail the discovery in the journal Scientific Reports, said: "Our survey reveals that the Danger Islands host 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of Antarctic Peninsula region combined, and include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world".

Scientists from Oxford University were part of an global team searching for images taken by the Landsat satellites to locate possible large numbers of penguin by identifying the mess they leave behind.

But that all changed when scientists discovered - for want of a better expression - massive piles of penguin poo on satellite images taken of the area. "As soon as we did the first run, it became very obvious that counting penguins this way was more efficient than anything else we've ever thought of", Singh said.

The team conducted the first ever comprehensive census of the flightless birds using aerial drones, satellite photos, ship-borne photo surveillance and on-the-ground nest counting during a survey trip aboard the M/V Hans Hansson from December 9-18, 2015.

Even in the summer, the nearby ocean is filled with thick sea ice.

The researchers said that the findings highlight the importance of protecting the area. The drone snapped photos of the island, which the team stitched together to get an accurate penguin count.

Scientists had theorised the decline was linked to reductions in sea-ice, which is an important habitat for krill, the small crustaceans that form a key part of the penguin diet.

"It's hard to know the causes".

The islands, which lie at the tip of Antarctica nearest South America, have rarely been visited, and the new discovery was thanks to Earth-monitoring satellites, the team from America, Britain and France, said.

While we battle through some Arctic conditions of our own here in the United Kingdom, a previously undiscovered "supercolony" of Adélie penguins has been found on the ominously named Danger Islands in Antarctica.

"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". The researchers also used a software to do the counting.

"Whether they'll be in or out, we don't know but at least now the people making those decisions will understand how important this area is", she told BBC News.

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