Antarctica Has Millions More Adélie Penguins Than We Thought

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There are millions and millions more Adélie penguins – the most deceptively cute of all seabirds – than we previously thought in East Antarctica.

An international team of Australian, French, and Japanese scientists have carried out new research studying the numbers of these penguins over a 5,000-kilometer (3,100-mile) stretch of coastline in East Antarctica over multiple breeding seasons.

They used aerial surveys, ground surveys, tagging, existing data, and automated camera traps to find out that there are actually 6 million of these bad boys. That's 3.6 million more than they previously thought.

“Non-breeding birds are harder to count because they are out foraging at sea, rather than nesting in colonies on land,” Australian Antarctic Division seabird ecologist, Dr Louise Emmerson, said in a statement“However, our study in East Antarctica, has shown that non-breeding Adélie penguins may be as, or more, abundant than the breeders."

As awesome as it is to hear some positive conservation news for once, Adélie penguins have a deeply worrying past. Between 1911 and 1912, Dr George Murray Levick made observations of this species engaging in orgies of rape, gang rape, sexual and physical abuse of chicks, as well as necrophilia with penguins, some of which had died the previous year.

But nevermind all that. This species is an incredibly important component of the ecosystem and can affect both terrestrial and marine conservation. 

"An estimated 193,500 tonnes [213,297 US tons] of krill and 18,800 tonnes [20,723 US tons] of fish are eaten during the breeding season by Adélie penguins breeding in East Antarctica,” Dr Emmerson said.

Lead author Dr Colin Southwell added: “By identifying significant penguin breeding populations near stations, we can better identify which areas may need enhanced protection into the future."

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