Today, in penguin news, the world can breathe a sign of relief as scientists have discovered millions of penguins that were thought to be MIA. Exactly how scientists were able to lose that many penguins the first place is where our story begins.
Not surprisingly, was all a matter of estimation. Researchers believed that there were slightly over two million Adélie penguins in the East Antarctic region. A new survey, however, found that the actual number of flightless tuxedo-birds was more than double that estimate at nearly six million.
Now, the obvious explanation for this is merely that penguins decided they really like breeding in the short time between scientists making the estimate and verifying it with the survey, but scientists have an alternative theory (hint, it doesn’t involve aliens). Previous scientific records of the penguins normally focused on breeders, and the unaccounted for millions could be the results of ignoring the non-breeders. That’s what happens when you ignore a certain demographic, people… er, penguins!
“Nonbreeding birds are harder to count because they are out, foraging at sea, rather than nesting in colonies on land,” Louise Emmerson, a seabird ecologist with the Australian Antarctic Division of the Australian government’s Department of the Environment and Energy, explained. “However, our study in East Antarctica has shown that non-breeding Adélie penguins may be as, or more, abundant than the breeders. These birds are an important reservoir of future breeders, and estimating their numbers ensures we better understand the entire population’s foraging needs.”
In addition, it would appear that the penguins like to nest in areas that have as little ice as possible, meaning that scientists may have been overlooking the areas in which they live, and the information the researchers collect comes, in part, from cameras installed in the area.
Who knows, maybe they’re just camera shy? You try having to live up to March of the Penguins.