Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey have located what they believe to be one of the largest colonies of emperor penguins ever discovered.
The penguin colony was first discovered using satellite imagery of Halley Bay, Antarctica. According to British Antarctic Survey, emperor penguins are the only species of penguin that breed on sea ice. Low resolution satellite images typically cannot detect the penguins, but high resolution images are able to detect the excrement, known as guano, of large groups of penguins. The guano stains the ice a light brown.
British Antarctic Survey
A satellite image of polar ice in Antarctica
Alain Hubert, leader of an International Polar Foundation's exhibition team studying the rate at which ice is being lost in Antarctica, believed there was a large colony near the area he and his team were conducting research. He told Antarcticstation.org:
“Since we started operating along Princess Ragnhild Coast we have encountered so many emperors penguins that I was convinced that a colony must be installed somewhere in the east”.
Using the satellite images to get an approximate location of the huge colony, Hubert's team decided to take a side trip on snowmobiles to try and locate the penguins. On December 3, 2012, the team located the approximately 9000 emperor penguin colony. He told Antarcticstation.org:
“It was almost midnight when we succeeded in finding a way down to the ice through crevasses and approached the first of five groups of more than a thousand individuals, three quarters of which were chicks. This was unforgettable moment!”
When describing the penguins to National Geographic, Hubert said:
"You can approach them. When you talk to them, it's like they are listening to you."