Space satellite discovers new emperor penguin colony in Antarctica

There are 66 emperor penguin breeding sites along the Antarctic coastline

Emperor penguin chicks in Antarctica. PA
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Satellite mapping technology has unearthed a new emperor penguin colony in Antarctica, scientists have said.

The announcement of the newly discovered colony to mark Penguin Awareness Day brings the total number of known emperor penguin breeding sites along the coastline of Antarctica to 66, the British Antarctic Survey said.

The site at Verleger Point, West Antarctica, has about 500 birds and was identified by penguin guano stains, which are brown and easy to spot against the snow and rock.

The scientists studied images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission which were confirmed after being compared to high-resolution images from the Maxar WorldView3 satellite.

Half of all known colonies have been discovered by satellite imagery, the scientists said.

Peter Fretwell, lead author of the study that made the find, said that while it was “exciting”, the colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss.

“This is an exciting discovery. The new satellite images of Antarctica’s coastline have enabled us to find many new colonies,” said Dr Fretwell, who studies wildlife from space.

“And whilst this is good news, like many of the recently discovered sites, this colony is small and in a region badly affected by recent sea ice loss.”

Emperor penguins, which are the biggest of the 18 penguin species and stand about 1.2 metres tall and are found in areas that are very hard to study because they are remote, inaccessible and very cold, with temperatures dropping to as low as minus 60°C, the scientists said.

The penguins need sea ice to breed, but levels are set to decline as the climate changes. Recent projections suggest that under current warming trends, 80 per cent of colonies will be quasi-extinct by the end of the century.

The new research was funded by science body UKRI-NERC as part of the “Wildlife from Space” project, with a contribution from conservation charity WWF.

Updated: January 20, 2023, 12:47 AM