A scientist believes he may have discovered four new colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctica after spotting their poop in satellite images of the continent.
Peter Fretwell, who works at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, studied the images taken from space and noticed patches of brown smudges against the white topography — a sure sign of the animals' existence. It is believed the colonies may have existed for some time, according to the journal entry in Antarctic Science.
The discovery is important since the species is classified as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to climate change and its impact on ice cover, on which the penguins live and breed.
If confirmed, the discovery would bring the total known emperor penguin colonies to 66, Fretwell wrote. He added there are “inherent difficulties in determining what constitutes a new or undiscovered breeding colony.”
The findings “give us an idea of the distribution and where the colonies are, and that’s really, really important if we’re going to monitor how they adapt to climate change,” he said. “But it doesn’t change the big picture that much.”
Satellite images from outer space have been repetitively used as a means to identify and track penguin colonies in these vulnerable and remote areas of the Earth.
“The monitoring of populations is crucial to tracking these changes and, if possible, implementing conservation measures,” said Fretwell.
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