Scientists have discovered a massive colony of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands, on the northeastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The remote, icy location turned out to be the perfect secret hideout for more than a million penguins. The discovery is very good news since their populations have been declining alarmingly due to climate change.
Scientists were tipped by satellite images that showed enormous swaths of deep pink penguin poop called “guano”, which intrigued researchers to go to the region to investigate.
“That was totally unexpected, and certainly at first I thought it might be a mistake, a false positive,” said to BuzzFeed news Heather Lynch, associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University.
The expedition of 10 scientists was held in December 2015, taking them to the isolated island on the edge of the Weddell Sea’s oceanic vortex.
The group registered 751,527 nests in total, with the aid of satellite images and drones. That amount of nests tallies to about 1.5 million Adélie penguins, roughly 20% of the total population of penguins in Antarctica.
“Discovering these colonies is pretty huge,” said professor Lynch, “It’s probably the last major population of penguins that we didn’t know were there in the first place.”
The huge discovery helps build the case that man-made climate change is the main reason behind the sharp decline of penguin populations on the Western side of the peninsula.
In contrast, on the Eastern side of the region, where sea ice has been more stable, the penguin population species has boomed.
The years long study was published in the academic journal Science last Friday.