It would seem that a penguin colony made up of 1.5 million members would be something a little hard to miss, but until recently a supercolony just this size had gone unnoticed. A recent expedition was launched along the northern tip of Antarctica, and only then was a colony of more than 1.5 million Adelie penguins discovered.
Researchers weren’t exactly surprised to find a colony there, but they were surprised at the size of the colony. Satellite imagery had revealed an amount of guano on the rocks around the Danger Islands that just didn’t make sense to the scientists. There was simply too much for the colony’s expected size.
Part of the reason the colony went unnoticed can be chalked up to remoteness and vastness of Antarctica. The Danger Islands are only about 10 km across, but if the colony happened to be in the right place at the right time, the researchers could easily miss them during the course of their studies.
The scientists used multiple pieces of technology to arrive at the official numbers for the colony. First, they did an initial headcount of the penguins they could actually see. Then they used drones and computer software to analyze the images to eventually arrive at an official headcount of 751,527 nesting penguins. It was safe to assume that each nesting bird had a partner out at sea, bringing the total headcount to 1.5 million.
The next phase of the research will focus on determining just how long this supercolony has been nesting on the Danger Islands. The key to that information lies within the guano on the island. Researchers will study the contents of the droppings that have collected in the mud to determine a timeline.
The discovery is a pretty substantial milestone for penguins. In most other areas of Antarctica, harsh climates have led to a decline in other penguin colonies. This supercolony is good news for the entire species. Scientists are hoping that the discovery will lead to a bigger protected area on the Danger Islands, where the flightless birds can live and thrive for many years.