“[T]he sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away,” is how one scientist, Dr. Heather Lynch from Stony Brook University, described getting her first glimpse of this secret penguin kingdom. Quite frankly, once you see the pictures for yourself, we think you’ll agree.
The scientists were initially tipped off to this penguin paradise by a NASA satellite image that showed patches of guano, aka “penguin poo,” on an archipelago called the Danger Islands, located at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Here’s more from IFLScience.com:
“We thought, ‘Wow! If what we’re seeing is true, these are going to be some of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world, and it’s going to be well worth our while sending in an expedition to count them properly.'”
The team travelled to the region in December 2015, funded by the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), having first found evidence for animals there in 2014 by scouring Landsat data with an algorithm. They then used a modified quadcopter drone to take images of the Danger Islands from above, discovering the supercolony in the process.
The Danger Islands get their name from British explorer James Ross in 1842. He named them so because, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), they appeared suddenly among heavy fragments of ice and “were almost completely concealed until the ship was nearly upon them.”
Interestingly, the number of Adélie penguins found on the east side of Antarctica is different to the west side – where this discovery was made. This could be due to greater sea ice in the area, more available food, or other factors.
It’s hoped this discovery will give more support to creating protected areas near the Antarctic, such as Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) or Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
“Given the large number of Adélie penguins breeding in the Danger Islands, and the likelihood that the northern Weddell Sea will remain suitable for Adélie penguins longer than the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula region, we suggest the Danger Islands should be strongly considered for further protection,” the team wrote in their paper.
It’s hard to imagine that, after seeing these images, anyone would not deem these islands a protected area, but in these strange times, you never know.