There are a lot more black and white birds wobbling around in Antarctica than some might have thought, new satellite data reveals.
With the use of Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images, scientists have been able to determine that there are close to 600,000 Emperor Penguins in the region — it was previously estimated that there were 270,000 – 350,000 birds. The scientists analyzed 44 emperor penguin colonies around Antarctica.
The satellite images in conjunction with ground counts allowed the scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, University of Minnesota, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Australian Antarctic Division to differentiate between the animals, ice, shadow, and penguin poop (guano). According to the agencies, this is the “first compressive census of a species taken from space.”
Previously, ecologists weren’t able to gauge the environmental impact on the penguin population as accurately because of cold weather in the region; the new method has little environmental impact, is cost-effective, and accurate.
However, the new research doesn’t shed light just yet on how climate change is impacting the birds. “This research really just sets a benchmark for actually knowing how many there are. Going forward, we can see how the populations are trending through time,” Michelle A. LaRue, a scientist from the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota, told ABC News.
LaRue added that “we do know that prior to this we lost one colony to sea ice loss.”
As you can see from the image above, the black and white color of the penguins stands out against the snow in these images and the colonies of them are visible.
Unfortunately, the satellite shots aren’t very close up of the penguins, but to check out some real-life penguins right now you can always tune into SeaWorld’s Penguin cam or look at the picture below.