Twice as many emperor penguins than thought

By AAP with AG staff 18 April 2012
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There are twice as many emperor penguins in Antarctica than previously thought, according to a new satellite survey.

TWICE AS MANY EMPEROR penguins live in Antarctica than was previously thought, a satellite mapping study has shown.

Scientists used Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images to estimate the population of each penguin colony around the Antarctic coastline.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) researchers counted 595,000 emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), almost double previous estimates of between 270,000 and 350,000.

On ice, the black-and-white plumage of emperor penguins makes colonies clearly visible in the satellite images.

The scientists studied 44 colonies around the coast of Antarctica, seven of which were unknown before.

Emperor penguins still vulnerable to climate change

BAS geographer and lead author Peter Fretwell said “We are delighted to be able to locate and identify such a large number of emperor penguins. This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space.”

The findings are reported in the online journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE.

Scientists are worried that in some regions of Antarctica earlier spring warming is leading to loss of sea ice habitat for emperor penguins, making their northerly colonies more vulnerable to climate change.

“Whilst current research leads us to expect important declines in the number of emperor penguins over the next century, the effects of warming around Antarctica are regional and uneven,” said BAS biologist Dr Phil Trathan. “In the future we anticipate that the more southerly colonies should remain, making these important sites for further research and protection.”