A penguin "mega-colony" has just been discovered, far away from humans

It's raining penguins!

Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) have long been thought to be disappearing from our planet due to human encroachment on their territory, and especially from global warming affecting their food source, mainly krill, which are disappearing more rapidly as sea ice in the region ebbs. 


Satellite images tipped scientists off to the presence of the colonies; they detected large patches of penguin feces, or guano, then sent a team to the area known as Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

750,000 mating pairs are there—a total of 1.5 million penguins; when the team studied ariel photographs since 1957, it appears that the population has been stable since at least then.

"It's a classic case of finding something where no-one really looked! The Danger Islands are hard to reach, so people didn't really try that hard," team-member Dr. Tom Hart from the UK's Oxford University told BBC News.

Upon discovering the guano patches, they had to go through even more images since the initial satellite pictures were too blurry. What they discovered really shocked them. 

Dr. Heather Lynch of New York's Stony University described their surprise: “The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away." 

"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."


An Adelie penguin colony beside the frozen Ross Sea area near McMurdo Station, Antarctica on November 11, 2016. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

That was no easy feat; even at its warmest, these waters are full of thick sea ice that makes it difficult for ships to make it through. Once they made it to the island, they sent out fleets of drones to capture a detailed set of high-resolution images that they could stitch, mosaic-like, into a much more complete and telling image.

The colonies, believed to be the 3rd and 4th largest in the world, are likely thriving precisely because of their remoteness from human beings. Other colonies in other locations that are being compromised by humans are definitely on the decline, and the penguin species was not known to exist on the Danger Islands at all, so this was a delightful bit of serendipity, followed by hard work and perseverance.

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

Michael Drosnin
Surprising Science
  • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
  • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
  • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of Jesus’ brother gets even weirder

The controversy over whether Jesus had any siblings is reignited after an amazing new discovery of an ancient text.

Jesus and James. Unknown painter. Possibly 14th century.
Politics & Current Affairs
Keep reading Show less

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less