top of page

Emperor Penguins

In good news for nature lovers and penguin fans, recent satellite images have identified a raft of new Emperor penguin breeding sites in the Antarctic.

The locations were identified from the way the birds' poo, or guano, had stained large patches of sea-ice and the discovery lifts the global Emperor population by 5-10%, to perhaps as many as 278,500 breeding pairs, reports the BBC.

It's a welcome development given that this iconic species is likely to come under severe pressure this century as the White Continent warms. The Emperors' whole life cycle is centred around the availability of sea-ice, and if this is diminished in the decades ahead - as the climate models project - then the animals' numbers will be hit hard.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) used the EU's Sentinel-2 spacecraft to scour the edge of the continent for previously unrecognised Emperor activity. The satellites' infrared imagery threw up eight such breeding sites and confirmed the existence of three others that had been mooted in the era before high-resolution space pictures.

The new identifications take the number of known active breeding sites from 50 to 61. There significant gaps between existing colonies as Emperor groups, it seems, like to keep at least 100km between themselves. The new sites maintain this distancing discipline.

Currently, it's impossible to count individual penguins from orbit but the BAS researchers can estimate numbers in colonies from the size of the birds' huddles. "It's good news because there are now more penguins than we thought," said BAS remote-sensing specialist Dr Peter Fretwell.

bottom of page