Spotted from Space: The 1.5m penguins no one knew existed

Previously unknown 'supercolony' of Adélie penguins discovered in Antarctica

Penguin super-colony spotted from space

Ms Lynch said: "One of the ways in which this is good news is that other studies have shown this area (the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula) is likely to remain more stable under climate change than the western Antarctic Peninsula".

"We thought, 'Wow! If what we're seeing is true, these are going to be some of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world, and it's going to be well worth our while sending in an expedition to count them properly".

Surprisingly, the newly discovered colony is formed of 1.5 million Adelie penguins, the very same species of penguins that, only 160 kilometers west of the Danger Islands, are dying due to ice melting.

Lynch and NASA's Matthew Schwaller initially found telltale signs of guano in NASA satellite imagery of Danger Islands in 2014.

A drone image of penguins in the Danger Islands.

The journal Nature reports that a "multi-modal survey" including ground counts and computer automated counts of drone imagery, showed huge populations of Adélie penguins in the Danger Islands off of the norther tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It's locked up in sea ice most of the year, and even in summer it's hard to reach.

'Until recently, the Danger Islands weren't known to be an important penguin habitat, ' said Heather Lynch, associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University. "Food availability? That's something we don't know", said Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist at WHOI, in a press release.

Landsat satellite offered images showing lots of penguins' guano (excrements of the penguins) suggesting that the Danger Islands are inhabited by hundreds of thousands of penguins.

The images prompted a group of scientists, including Oxford University's Dr Tom Hart, to arrange an expedition the following year to find out how many penguins were there.

The discovery cements the idea that climate change was behind the decline of penguin populations on the western side of the peninsula, Polito said.

"Whether they'll be in or out, we don't know but at least now the people making those decisions will understand how important this area is", she told BBC News. These also provide evidence to support the proposed Marine Protected Areas near the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education.

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