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Scientists use pictures of poop to determine Adelie penguin population

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A recent survey has shown that there are now approximately 53% more Adelie penguins living in Antarctica that previously thought. Although scientists had feared their decline after noting that the birds seemed to be disappearing from the Antarctic Peninsula, satellite images have discovered 17 new colonies elsewhere on the continent, as well as signs of growth in the previously known 49 colonies. As a result quantitative ecologist and assistant professor at Stony Brook University says they now believe that there are “more than 3.79 million pairs of penguins in 251 breeding populations” identified along the Antarctic coast as well as sub Antarctic islands, the only areas in the world where Adelies exist in the wild.

Lynch believes the move from the peninsula was triggered by the fact that rapidly decreasing icre there has led to a sharp decline in the amount of krill, “favored food of the penguins.”

Although the penguin census did not involve more than a few “boots on the ground” to count the birds individually, their numbers were determined via thousands of high resolution satellite imagery of the Adelie’s poop over a period of 10 months. The results not only found that the birds seem to be thriving, the data is also being used as a “baseline” against which scientists can map out future changes in determining areas in need of protection, including limiting the amount of commercial fishing in breeding territories, both for the Adelies as well as other marine life.

Adelie penguins, which stand about 18”-30” tall and weigh anywhere from 8-13 lbs, are further distinguished by their mostly black bodies, white bellies and white rings around their eyes, as well as long facial fethers with obscure most of their red bills. Breeding pairs lay two eggs anywhere from October to February, which are incubated for 32-34 days. Both parents take turns sitting on the eggs, usually in shifts of up to 12 days each. Chicks usually remain in their stony nests for 22 days and are ready to swim out to sea by the time they are two months old. First discovered by a French expedition in 1840, the penguins were named for the wife of the team’s leader.