Hidden Penguin Colony Uncovered by Satellite Images


| LAST UPDATE 01/22/2023

By Amie Alfaro
Emperor Penguin Colony Antarctica
vladsilver via Getty Images

An emperor penguin colony has been found to exist through satellite imagery. The discovery was made by accident when a researcher noticed something strange in their images. Here's what to know.

Peter Fretwell was studying sea ice loss in photographs. He is a scientist working with the British Antarctic Survey. While he was examining the amount of ice loss, he took note of something on the ice – it was penguin poop. He said about the findings, “I could see what looked like a very small brown stain on the ice.” There have only been 66 colonies of the emperor penguin that are known. Images from another satellite were studied and confirmed Fretwell’s findings. There is another emperor penguin colony in town. This particular colony is estimated to have around 1,000 adult birds, 500 in pairs with their young, per LiveScience. This colony is located on the West Antarctician coast, a difficult part of the continent to reach. That makes the satellite discovery even more exciting.

Emperor Penguins Swimming Antarctica
Johnny Johnson via Getty Images
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Emperor penguins are the largest penguins, with the average emperor penguin standing at 45 inches tall and weighing up to 100 pounds. They use huddles to protect themselves from the harsh conditions of their arctic home and take turns standing in the middle to keep warm. Their diets consist of fish, squid, and krill, which they hunt for underwater. They can dive up to 1,850 feet and hold their breaths for 20 minutes. They spend their summers hunting while their winters are spent breeding. The flightless birds only breed on packed sea ice, which means they are highly vulnerable to climate change as warming temperatures create more sea loss. They are challenging to find and study in the wild. In fact, scientists believe that there are about 20% more emperor penguins than they previously estimated. However, their numbers are currently threatened by climate change, and the species is listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

This amazing accidental discovery will hopefully lead to more insight into the lives of the emperor penguin - and in doing so, will help us figure out ways to protect our arctic friends. Until then, stay tuned.

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