Penguin Dropping Spotted From Space Helps Scientists Locate Colonies

By: Jonathan Xu

In a fly over Antarctica, satellites have been imaging peculiar “stains” in the ice of the icy continent of the South. Under further investigation and inspection with the use of higher resolution satellite images, scientists have discovered what they really are: penguin droppings.

After discovering the mysterious stains in the ice, scientists were all confused as to what caused the stains and how they got there. Originally, it was thought that the stain may have had to do with the geography and the water underneath the ice. After the photos were analyzed thoroughly, it was evident that the stains had nothing to do with the geography or the water.

Then, the attention turned to the wildlife and ecological factors that may have been responsible for the stains. An extensive research session revealed several possibilities, which were eventually all ruled out except for one: penguin guano. So much penguin excrement in one place could only indicate that there are large penguin colonies present at or near the sites of the stains.

Soon following this discovery way back in 2002, other satellites were sent above Antarctica to image the landscape, seeking these unique stains with the promise of major penguin colonies. At the time, the photos taken by the satellites were not as detailed and focused due to lack of more advanced technology, which we have developed recently. Using renovated lenses and capturing methods, modern satellites have brought many previously unseen details into stark contrast.

The recent satellite images possess such a high resolution, that it is even possible to count the number of penguins from the images captured by modern satellites. Now with the help of higher resolution satellite cameras, scientists have used them to find out more about the near threatened species of emperor penguins.

With the use of higher resolution satellite imaging capabilities, scientists have concluded that there are a grand total of 61 emperor penguin colonies in the Antarctic continent. This is 11 more colonies than the initial number of known emperor penguin colonies. The imaging from space has also revealed the first major emperor penguin breeding grounds that are not coastal.

What do these stains from penguin excrement mean exactly? Ecologists say that any penguin colony that produces the amount of guano captured by the satellites is one that is thriving. With this new method of locating penguin colonies, scientists expect to find more colonies in the coming years, especially the smaller ones.

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Based off of this news article, this article, and this video.

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