Scientists Discover a Mega-Colony of Adelie Penguins in Antarctica

Huge “mega-colonies” of Adélie penguins have been discovered near the Antarctic peninsula, offering more hope for the region’s penguin population.

Previous scientific surveys showed a significant decline in Adélie penguins, the most common species found on the Antarctic peninsula. And that decline didn’t come as a surprise: Climate change is rapidly altering the peninsula’s geography and impacting wildlife.

WWF notes that, while Adélie penguin populations have increased in some areas, their numbers have declined by 65 percent in other regions. The quest to understand these losses led scientists to examine satellite data of the remote region. And in 2014, researchers found evidence of penguins in an unexpected area: the Danger Islands in the Weddell Sea. 

Inspired by the tantalizing promise of more penguins, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oxford University and several institutions mounted an expedition to reach the remote Danger Islands. As detailed in the journal “Scientific Reports,” the scientists discovered several colonies of penguins – 1.5 million birds, to be exact. 

Co-researcher Tom Hart of the University of Oxford explained:

This was an incredible experience, finding and counting so many penguins. The size of these colonies makes them regionally important and makes the case for expanding the proposed Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) to include the Danger Islands. More than that, I think it highlights the need for better protection of the west Antarctic Peninsula, where we are seeing declines.

The researchers then revisited satellite data dating back to the 1950s. They found that the colonies appear to have been stable for several decades, suggesting that this is a longstanding breeding ground for the birds.

By using drones to take images of individual nesting sites and then stitching them together to form a patchwork map, the researchers were able to tally up total numbers and determine where the penguins congregate. This data provides a benchmark for tracking future population changes and birth distribution.

At the moment, the number of penguins counted on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula differs from the west side. Exploring the impact of climate change and shifts in ice configuration could allow for greater insight into how penguins select their nesting grounds.

Marine Protected Areas Are Vital for Conservation

In 2016, an area off Antarctica was designated as a marine protected area. This 598,000 square-mile region in the Ross Sea was given the green-light by the international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. This area holds immense value for scientific research and biodiversity. 

This recent study makes the case for extending that protected area to include the Danger Islands, ensuring a future for the Adélie penguins.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

51 comments

Marie W
Marie W3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner8 months ago

I'm thinking it won't be this way for long. With the melting of Antarctic ice sheets due to man made climate change, there are many penguin colonies that are affected and dying off.

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Lesa D
Lesa D9 months ago

COOL!!!

thank you Steve...

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KimJ M
KimJ M9 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M9 months ago

Now leave them alone

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KimJ M
KimJ M9 months ago

Great news

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Sophie M
Past Member 9 months ago

Great. Thanks.

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Cate S
Cate S9 months ago

Thanks Steve. Please protect Antartica.

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Winn A
Winn A9 months ago

Thanks

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Janis K
Janis K9 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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