Scientists locate penguins in Antarctica by spotting their poo from space

June 2nd, 2009 - 3:20 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 2 (ANI): Scientists have been able to locate dozens of emperor penguin breeding colonies in Antarctica by spotting large amounts of the bird’s droppings on pictures taken from space.

According to a report in the Telegraph, satellite images have picked up giant red-brown stains on the pristine white sea ice, indicating the presence of thousands of penguins.

It meant that researchers for the British Antarctic Survey were able to locate every colony on the continent for the first time ever.

The in-depth satellite survey identified 38 breeding colonies, which are believed to amount to between 200,000 and 400,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins.

Until now, it has been difficult to accurately estimate the population of emperor penguins because scientists have not been able to track them during the winter breeding season.

Researchers now hope by tracking the penguin colonies, they can monitor the impact of climate change, which threatens to wipe out 95 per cent of the population by 2100.

The survey reveals ten new colonies have appeared, while six previously known ones have relocated.

According to Peter Fretwell, co-author of the study and geographic information officer at British Antarctic Survey, his chance discovery would revolutionize the way scientists monitored penguins.

“This is the first part of an ongoing study. Now we can locate the colonies we will be able to go out and get an accurate count of the total breeding population,” he said.

Fretwell had been mapping a British Antarctic Survey base near the Halley station on the Brunt ice shelf in October 2008 when he noticed a brown stain on the satellite images.

“It was a very serendipitous discovery and a chance encounter when I realized I could see the stains,” he added.

“They look like reddy-brown stains on the sea ice, which is formed every year in the Antarctic winter and usually looks absolutely pristine and white,” he explained.

“No other birds breed on the sea ice and each colony can have tens of thousands of birds in it. Emperor penguins are quite big birds and it gets quite messy and very smelly,” he said.

Emperor penguins spend a large part of their life at sea and during the Antarctic winter, when temperatures drop to -58F (-50 C), they return to their colonies to breed on sea-ice. (ANI)

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