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Emperor Penguins at Weddell sea (Pepe Rojas)

In these days of uncertainty and pandemic in the world, when we do not know what is coming next, it is comforting to receive good news. I just read an article published on August 4 in the British newspaper The Guardian in which the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has announced the discovery of a total of 11 new colonies of Emperor Penguins. 8 of these are new and the other 3 are unconfirmed from past reports, which are considered “re-dicovered”. This means 20% more colonies of this species (with this, the number of colonies goes up to 61), which contribute to the current population with 5 to 10% more individuals.

Newly discovered and rediscovered colonies found using Sentinel-2. Newly discovered (red circles) and re-discovered colonies (yellow
squares) Picture British Antarctic Survey.

For years, the Wildlife From Space program of the BAS has been studying different species such as penguins, whales, seals, and albatrosses using high-resolution satellite imagery. In the case of penguins, the images allow researchers to recognize the color of guano in Antarctic ice and even small colonies. The Sentinel-2 satellite launched in 2015 by the European Space Agency (ESA) allows images to be obtained up to 10 meters in resolution and this discovery was thus achieved.

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery of the eleven newly discovered or rediscovered colonies. Example of colour corrected imagery from
Sentinel-2 at 1:50 000 scale of the newly discovered or rediscovered sites. Photo British Antarctic Survey

The technique of using satellite images is not new, in 2015 a team of researchers led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, found an Adelie Penguins colony of 1.5 million individuals on Danger island. The images also revealed the reddish color of the penguin’s guano on the ice. Later the team confirmed their finding in situ and counted the birds with the aid of a drone and by hand.

Adelie Penguins, the other ice obligate specialist. (Pepe Rojas)

These two species are ice obligate species. Emperor Penguins nest miles from the coast on ice attached to the mainland (fast ice), in some cases, these colonies are about 400 km from the coast. Adelie Penguins do not nest on ice but many times their colonies are far from the sea and associated with polynyas, which are areas of the open sea surrounded by ice where they can feed and thus reduce the energy expense of having to move from the colonies to other places to feed.

Without a doubt, great news in the midst of this situation and if you want to learn of my first encounter with the Emperor Penguins, stay tuned for my next article.

Happy birding!

Love you all,


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