Scientists discover penguin 'super-colony' in Antarctic

Researchers say the 'hotspot' is home to 1.5 million penguins, a change from declines seen elsewhere in the Antarctic

Scientists discover penguin 'super-colony' in Antarctic

Picture by: Bai Guolong/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Scientists have discovered the presence of a 'super-colony' of penguins in the Antarctic.

More than 1.5 million Adélie penguins have been found living on the Danger Islands in the Weddell Sea, which is located in the East Antarctic Peninsula.

Working off evidence from satellite imagery captured by NASA in 2014, scientists from various institutions mounted an expedition to the area to conduct a population survey - which included the use of drones to help count the number of penguins.

The findings have now been published in the Scientific Reports journal, showing 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins - which researchers say is the largest population in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Researchers say the Danger Islands have been 'largely spared' the environmental changes seen elsewhere in the Antarctic.

Dr Tom Hart, a researcher at Oxford’s Department of Zoology, explained: "This was an incredible experience, finding and counting so many penguins. Scientifically, while this is a huge number of ‘new’ penguins, they are only new to science. Satellite imagery going back to 1959 shows they have been here all along.

"It puts the East Antarctic Peninsula in stark contrast to the Adélie and chinstrap penguin declines that we are seeing on the West Antarctic Peninsula. It’s not clear what the driver of those declines is yet; the candidates are climate change, fishing and direct human disturbance, but it does show the size of the problem."

Scientists are now calling for the area to be considered for protection in the form of 'marine protected areas' - in order to help shield the large penguin population from the impact of human activity.

"They are a hotspot and worthy of protection," Dr Ward added.