Antarctica’s Emperor Penguin Population Grew By 20%, Satellite Images Show
Satellite images spotted an increase in Antarctica’s emperor penguin population, after 11 new emperor penguin colonies were photographed in the region. Each colony is estimated to have few hundred penguins, which is smaller than usual, but still boosts the total number of penguin colonies in Antarctica by 20%.
This discovery happened after researchers at the British Antarctic Survey spotted guano (reddish brown excrement) patches upon large swathes of sea ice. Findings from this discovery were documented in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation journal.
“The [new colonies] are an exciting discovery,” Peter Fretwell, lead researcher from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), told The Guardian. “Whilst this is good news, the colonies are small and so only take the overall population count up to just over half a million penguins.”
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A boost to the dwindling emperor penguin population is good news, as emperor penguins are currently classified as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is because these penguins are the only species that breed on sea ice. Male emperor penguins incubate eggs on top of their feet, and sea ice provides a level, smooth surface for them to walk on while balancing those eggs. Plus, emperor penguins also eat krill, a type of crustacean that relies on organisms that live under sea ice for sustenance. Global warming and rising sea levels have caused a drastic increase in the melting of this sea ice, which threatens the emperor penguin population.
But that also means this sudden increase in their population must further push conservation efforts. Philip Trathan, another researcher from the British Antarctic Survey, told The Guardian that, “The new breeding sites are all in locations where recent model projections suggest emperor penguins will decline…we need to watch these sites carefully as climate change will affect this region.”