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Scientists track Emperor penguins from space through poop

By Kera Ellingson     Jun 2, 2009 in Environment
British scientists are using satellite imagery to track the emperor penguins' colonies by following their poop. Because of their natural camouflage, traditional techniques make it hard to locate and track them.
Instead, the British Antarctic Survey came up with a solution to the problem -- follow the poop! They've been using high-powered satellites to pinpoint their colony locations. Fortunately for them, their waste shows up clearly in the images by staining the ice to a light brown color.
Mapping expert Peter Fretwell says, "we can't see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn't good enough. But during the breeding season the birds stay at a colony for eight months. The ice gets pretty dirty and it's the guano stains that we can see."
Their new method helped them find 38 emperor penguin colonies, 10 of which are new. Of previously known colonies, six had relocated and another six could not be located. Penguin ecologist Phil Trathan said, "This is a very exciting development. Now we know exactly where the penguins are, the next step will be to count each colony so we can get a much better picture of population size. Using satellite images combined with counts of penguin numbers puts us in a much better position to monitor future population changes over time." Their current estimations put the total number of penguins between 200,000-400,000 breeding mates.
This is a perfect example of using combining high-tech and low-tech to help better the environment and keep track of the world's animals.
More about Penguin, Poop, British, Antarctic
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