Throughout Antarctica, the number of documented Adélie penguins was declining for years. But now, scientists have discovered a supercolony of Adélie that increases the the region's known penguin abundance by nearly 70 percent -- and it's all thanks to their poo.
The discovery was published in the journal Scientific Reports last week and detailed the revelation, naming the Danger Islands, located just off the "thumb" of Antarctica under South America, as an Adélie hotspot -- home to more than 1.5 million of the birds.
"It's a classic case of finding something where no one really looked," Tom Hart, one of the researchers, told the BBC. "The Danger Islands are hard to reach, so people didn't really try that hard."
According to the BBC, the researchers were led to the Danger Islands when satellite images from the American Landsat spacecraft showed what appeared to be signs of penguin life, including massive amounts of guano, or waste.
"The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away," researcher Heather Lynch told the BBC. "We thought, 'Wow! If what we're seeing is true, these are going to be some of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world, and it's going to be well worth our while sending in an expedition to count them properly."
After the image discovery, a team began an expedition to the Danger Islands in 2015 and documented the supercolony they discovered, estimating that there were around 750,000 breeding pairs of penguins in the small area, The New York Times reported.
The discovery is important for ensuring environmental protection of the area. Before the supercolony was found, the Danger Islands "wasn't considered a high priority for protection," Lynch told the Times.
Once protection is secured, the team of researchers will begin studying how this super colony is able to thrive in its cramped conditions.
"The Danger Islands are so small... it's insane how many penguins there are in such a small area," Lynch told National Geographic.
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