For years, scientists thought Adélie penguins were on the decline in western Antarctica, but the recent discovery of a penguin “supercolony” on the Antarctic Peninsula has them second-guessing their assumptions.
Scientists didn’t think the remote Danger Islands would be important penguin habitats. That is, until they stumbled on thousands of birds nesting in the area during a 2014 visit. In fact, it’s largest ever discovered.
“Not only do the Danger Islands hold the largest population of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, they also appear to have not suffered the population declines found along the western side of Antarctic Peninsula that are associated with recent climate change,” Louisiana State University’s Michael Polito, one of the researchers, said in a statement.
Using an aerial drone, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found the 1.5-million-strong “supercolony” on the Danger Islands, a chain of rocky islands on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The resulting study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reported that “Adélie penguin colonies in the Danger Islands have not suffered the net declines seen” in the western Antarctic.
Along with polar bears, Adélie penguins have been the poster children for man-made global warming. Some scientists and environmental activists have tied population declines and sea ice loss to man-made warming.
“In recent years, the loss of sea ice in this part of Antarctica has led to a dramatic decline in the phytoplankton and devastated the krill,” former Vice President Al Gore wrote in 2012. “As a result, the population of Adelie penguins has declined 80% in the northwestern Antarctic Peninsula over the past 30 years.”
While there’s little evidence global warming has had much of an impact on the Arctic, scientists do predict more glacial and sea ice melt if temperatures rise in the future.
But past warming seems to have bypassed the Danger Islands.
Adélie numbers in the region have declined 70 percent in recent decades, making the discovery of a “supercolony” even more astounding. Scientists didn’t expect to find penguins living on the Danger Island chain.
The study found the “Danger Islands have been largely spared the environmental changes experienced by the South Shetland Islands and the northern portion of the peninsula,” largely due to the west-to-east warming pattern there.
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