EMPEROR PENGUINS ARE HIDING FROM US, SATELLITE IMAGES REVEAL.
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.”
New satellite images appear to have located colonies of emperor penguins previously unknown to researchers.