Satellite Images of Poop Stains Uncover New Colonies of Endangered Empire Penguins

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Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey have discovered four new colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctica, identified through satellite imagery of their guano (bird poop).

This discovery is significant as emperor penguins are classified as “near threatened” due to climate change. Led by Peter Fretwell, a geographic information officer, the team used satellite images to spot the colonies, previously undetected for years.

Emperor penguins, the largest penguin species, are facing a severe population decline, with an estimated 50% drop over the past 50 years, leaving around 600,000 remaining.

via CopernicusBritish Antarctic Survey

These penguins breed in extreme conditions, with temperatures dropping to minus 50 Fahrenheit and winds up to 120 mph. They rely heavily on Antarctic sea ice for breeding, which is rapidly declining. In 2022, a significant reduction in sea ice led to a “total breeding failure” in almost all known breeding sites.

The newly discovered colonies are small and show signs of movement due to unstable sea-ice conditions. This finding, while crucial for understanding the species’ distribution, highlights the urgent conservation challenges emperor penguins face amid global warming. The research was published in Antarctic Science.

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