Satellite images spot 11 new penguin colonies in Antarctica but global warming could soon wipe them out

New colonies of Emperor Penguins spotted in AntarcticaBAS
  • Satellite images from outer space have spotted 11 new penguin colonies on the isolated continent of Antarctica.
  • With these new penguin colonies, there are an estimated 20% more emperor penguins now.
  • However, these colonies are located on margins of emperor penguin habitats and are likely to be wiped out by climate change as the planet gets warmer.
Satellite images have spotted 11 new colonies of penguins in Antarctica with an estimated 20% more emperor penguins than previously thought. This brings the global census of penguin colonies to a grand total of 61.

Play iconA circle surrounding a triangle pointing right. It indicates, "this type of media can be played."Emperor penguins in Antarctica

“Whilst this is good news, the colonies are small and so only take the overall population count up by 5-10% to just over half a million penguins,” said Peter Fretwell, the lead author of the study published in Remote Sensing Ecology and Conservation.

Close-up satellite image of Dawson Lambton colony BAS


Emperor penguins — the benchmark of climate change
Emperor penguins serve an important gauge of the impact of climate change on the planet. Their favourite breeding habitat is sea ice and that’s one of the first things to melt as Earth gets warmer.

Emperor penguin and its chickBAS

Most of the new colonies that have been spotted using the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite are located at the margins of the emperor penguins’ breeding range. This heightens the risk of losing them to climate change and rising temperatures.

Close-up satellite image of Dawson Lambton colony showing individual penguins BAS


"Whilst it's good news that we've found these new colonies, the breeding sites are all in locations where recent model projections suggest emperors will decline,” said Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said in a statement.

Adult emperor penguins with chick near Halley Research StationBAS

A couple of colonies were also located offshore on sea ice that has developed around icebergs grounded in shallow waters. Not normally known to venture this far out, the discovery of penguins living almost 180 kilometres offshore was not expected.