A group of researchers has discovered one of the largest colonies of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands of Antarctica. This ‘super-colony’ is believed to consist out of 751,527 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins. How would one count such a large group of animals? Well, with the help of drones and neural network software.

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Penguin colony counted with the help of drones

The Wall Street Journal reported that the discovery of such a large colony comes as a surprise as researchers thought that the species was diminishing as a result of changing weather patterns and reduced food supplies. The colony was first discovered when researchers led by ecologist Heather Lynch at Stony Brook University in New York were studying satellite images that showed Cuano stains so large that they could be seen from space.

“When we first got these pixels of guano, I thought it might be a false alarm,” said Dr. Lynch. “It wasn’t. We had massive penguin colonies that had not been known to exist.”

The research team counted many of the penguins by hands but then turned to drones. With the unmanned aerial vehicles, they took images that were analyzed using neural network software developed by Hanumant Singh at Northeastern University in Boston.

Dr. Lynch estimates that the entire Adélie penguin population in Antarctica is now more than 4.5 million breeding pairs. This is roughly 1.5 million more than 20 years ago. The population seems to have been stable since the 1950’s.

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