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The Tongva Times

Danger Islands reveal supercolony of Adelie penguins

    By Lana Hy

    Staff Writer

    On March 2, more than 1.5 million Adelie penguins were detected on Danger Islands off the coast of Western Antarctica. The region’s known amount of penguins increased by nearly 70 percent. 

    P. Dee Boersma, director of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels at the University of Washington, told Science Trends,“It’s always good news when you find new penguins. The trends have not been so good for so many of these species.”

    The discovery began in 2014 when images from a NASA satellite revealed penguin excrement on the ground of Danger Islands.

    The scientists who found the images were Heather Lynch, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University in New York, and Mathew Schwaller, a NASA scientist. Lynch and Schwaller thought more research was needed, so they gathered a team of scientists to help them.    

    In December 2015, the scientists launched an expedition to Danger Islands and spotted thousands of birds nesting on the rocky terrain of the island. They used a drone to capture each inch of the island to get an accurate number of the penguins.

    The team used the images to produce a collage, showing the landmass of the islands in 2D and 3D. Scientists then used a neural network software to conduct a pixel by pixel analysis of the image collage in order to seek penguin nests.    

    The images not only unveiled the amount of penguins, but also how the sea, ice, and temperature changes affected the penguin population.

    Before this supercolony was discovered, scientists thought the main cause of the decreasing number of Adelie penguins in Antarctica were due to recent climate change.

    This discovery proved that change in climate had nothing to do with the reduction of penguins. Scientists were just looking in the wrong places.

    The finding of the Adelie penguins still does not answer all questions scientists have regarding possible relationships between temperature change and penguin population.

    Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, explained to Science Trends about how they’re unclear of the differences in the amount of penguins in Danger Islands and the rest of Antarctica.

    In addition, the team is questioning whether the differences in population are due to food availability or the conditions of the ice. Since more penguins were found, it improves the health of Antarctica’s ecosystem.

    According to Ocean Portal,”[Penguins] carry nutrients between land and sea, and enrich both with their feces. Some burrowing species even modify the landscape as they dig nests into the ground.”

    The discovered penguins will be used for further research to determine if the commission will place a MPA (Marine Protected Area) surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula.


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    Danger Islands reveal supercolony of Adelie penguins