There Are Millions More Penguins Than We Thought

Scientists undercounted the Adelie penguins on Antarctica by 3.6M
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2017 7:15 AM CDT
There Are Millions More Penguins Than We Thought
An Adelie penguin male builds a stone nest during the filming of the Discovery Channel/BBC series "Frozen Planet."   (AP Photo/Discovery/BBC, Jeff Wilson)

In a rare bit of good news in the animal conservation world, scientists say they vastly lowballed the penguin population on Antarctica. The off-base estimate pertains to Adelie penguins—that's the adorable Happy Feet variety—and it turns out there are 3.6 million more of them than previously thought, reports the Huffington Post Australia. A team of Australian, Japanese, and French scientists now think there are 5.9 million of these birds occupying a 3,100-mile stretch of east Antarctica. From that projection, they pegged the total Adelie penguin population on the continent at 14 million to 16 million. The Adelies, named after the wife of the French explorer who discovered them in 1840, are only found on Antarctica and its islands. So why did their number take such a leap?

"The reason it's higher is we have incorporated the non-breeding component of the population," says Aussie ecologist Dr. Louise Emmerson. What that means is that while the breeding birds migrate to the island to do the deed and then sit on eggs, making them easy to count, non-breeders are "off foraging out in the water where we can't see them," she says. It turns out the non-breeders were more numerous. How did the experts revise their count? They used aerial surveillance and land-based counting methods, and they studied penguin droppings to ballpark the amount of food the tuxedoed ones consume: an estimated 213,000 tons of krill and 21,000 tons of fish during the breeding season, per the AFP. The findings could help inform conservation efforts for marine and land animals, per the Australian. (What happened to 150K missing penguins?)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.