Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Penguin poo seen via satellite

Monday, June 1, 2009

TO p-p-p-pick up a penguin from space, you first have to pick up images of penguin poo.
The birds can't be seen via satellite – but the mess they leave behind in their Antarctic colonies can be.

The big piles of excrement – or guano – helped a British team identify a total of 38 emperor penguin colonies, ten of which were new.

Of the previously known colonies, six had relocated and six were not found.

'We can't see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn't good enough,' said Peter Fretwell, mapping expert at the British Antarctic Survey.

'But during the breeding season the birds stay at a colony for eight months.

The ice gets pretty dirty and it's the guano stains that we can see.'

Very little is known about the colonies of emperor penguins but the reddish-brown poo patches can now offer a reliable indication of their location.

'This is a very exciting development. Now we know exactly where the penguins are, the next step will be to count each colony so we can get a much better picture of population size,' said British Antarctic Survey ecologist, Dr Phil Trathan.

Estimates of the total number of emperor penguins range between 200,000 to 400,000 pairs. The next step for the team is to use the satellite data to count up the penguins at each of the 38 colonies.


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