New penguin super-colony spotted from space

Even in the austral summer the surrounding ocean is filled with thick sea ice making it extremely difficult to access. The Danger Islands are located in the northern peninsula of Antarctica and are home to 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins

The data seemed to suggest that there were hundreds of thousands of penguins living on this islands, which Lynch initially thought "was a mistake".

But in 2014, the researchers spotted something interesting in NASA satellite images of the islands - guano, or poop, stains, which are a telltale sign of penguin activity.

A thriving "hotspot" of 1.5 million Adelie penguins, a species fast declining in parts of the world, has been discovered on remote islands off the Antarctic Peninsula, surprised scientists said Friday.

Inspired by their discovery of seabird excrement, researchers set off in search of the birds themselves.

"I think the biggest question this study asks is, how could 1.5 million penguins be hiding in plain sight?" said Hanumant Singh, a Northeastern University professor who oversaw the robotics and imaging portions of the study.

"In 2006, I had the chance to visit one of the Danger Islands and was amazed by the sheer number of Adélie penguins I saw".

In December 2015 a team of 10 scientists made the treacherous journey to the Danger Islands, on the edge of the Weddell Sea's oceanic vortex of sea ice.

"We were. very lucky to have a window of time where the sea ice moved out and we could get a yacht in", said Lynch.

The first bird census of the Danger Islands unearthed over 750,000 Adelie breeding pairs, more than the rest of the area combined, the team reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

Scientists say that the Danger Islands "appear to have avoided recent declines" which have been documented on the Western Antarctic Pensinsula and "deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region".

Heather Lynch, from Stony Brook University in NY, said that prior to the discovery, the Danger Islands were not known to be an important habitat for penguins. The team used new drone technology to get the first ever count of the population of penguins on the Danger Islands. "Finally getting into the Danger Islands and counting the penguins shows how robust populations are where the ice is intact".

Using a Quadcopter drone, the researchers flew a grid pattern across the islands, taking multiple photos of the birds and their nests. He also designed algorithms to scan the collected images and identify the location of penguin nesting sites.

It's a particularly incredible find because just 100 miles away in the west Antarctic, the exact same species is already in decline due to sea ice melt.

"Now that we know this tiny island group is so important, it can be considered for further protection from fishing".

"Despite our modern technologically advanced world there are still remote corners that we know very little about - usually because they are extremely hard to get to", he said.

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