EM­PEROR PEN­GUINS ARE HID­ING FROM US, SATEL­LITE IM­AGES REVEAL.

BREED­ING SITES

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - LIZZIE ROBERTS

LON­DON • Em­peror pen­guins have been hid­ing from us, satel­lite im­ages have re­vealed, after sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered 11 ad­di­tional colonies in the Antarc­tic.

The new colonies, three of which were pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied but never con­firmed, pro­vide a wel­come boost to pop­u­la­tion num­bers by around 25,000 to 50,000 — bringing the global to­tal to around half a mil­lion.

But the re­searchers at the Bri­tish Antarc­tic Sur­vey said the locations are likely to be af­fected by cli­mate change, sig­nalling a po­ten­tial threat to the birds’ habitat. It fol­lows pre­vi­ous stud­ies, which have es­ti­mated the species could dras­ti­cally de­cline by the end of the cen­tury due to global warm­ing.

The find­ings, re­ported in the jour­nal Re­mote Sens­ing in Ecol­ogy and Con­ser­va­tion, were made us­ing im­ages from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s Coper­ni­cus Sentinel-2 satel­lite.

The pow­er­ful satel­lite en­abled the re­searchers to mon­i­tor ex­ist­ing colonies and dis­cover the new ones quickly by scour­ing the im­ages in search of “brown pix­els”, which would in­di­cate pen­guin colonies.

The 11 colonies were lo­cated on Antarc­tica’s coastline, two in the penin­sula re­gion, three in the west and the re­main­ing six in the east. They in­cluded two new breed­ing sites on ice shelves, as well as two off­shore sites.

The lat­ter colonies were more than 160 km off­shore on sea ice that had formed around grounded ice­bergs, in what the re­searchers said was “a sur­pris­ing new finding.”

“Recog­ni­tion that em­peror pen­guins can breed a long way from the coast is im­por­tant; it con­firms that po­ten­tial breed­ing habitat ex­ists in ar­eas not pre­vi­ously doc­u­mented,” the re­searchers said.

But as the new ar­eas are fur­ther north, mean­ing they will be in warmer tem­per­a­tures, they are more likely to be sus­cep­ti­ble to melt­ing ice, they added.

The re­searchers found the new colonies are all lo­cated in ar­eas where colonies are ex­pected to be ex­tinct or quasi-ex­tinct by the end of the cen­tury.

Dr. Phil Trathan, head of con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­ogy at the sur­vey, said: “Birds in these sites are prob­a­bly the ‘ca­naries in the coal mine’ — we need to watch these sites care­fully as cli­mate change will af­fect this re­gion.”

JOHN WELLER, FISH EYE FILES / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

New satel­lite im­ages ap­pear to have lo­cated colonies of em­peror pen­guins pre­vi­ously un­known to re­searchers.

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