First Contact: Emperor penguin colony receives first ever human visitors

Jan 08, 2013
Credit: International Polar Foundation

(Phys.org)—Three team members from Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctica polar research station are the first humans to have ever visited and photographed a newly-discovered 9,000-strong colony of emperor penguins on Antarctica's Princess Ragnhild Coast.

Researchers from the and the US National Environment Research Council first discovered the colony of 1m-tall emperor using satellite imagery, and published the location in a 2009 paper "Penguins from space: faecal reveal the location of colonies". However, the colony's existence was unconfirmed until expedition leader Alain Hubert and station, chief mechanic Kristof Soete from Belgium and Swiss mountain guide Raphael Richard travelled to the colony in early December 2012.

"Since we started operating along Princess Ragnhild Coast we have encountered so many emperors penguins that I was convinced that a colony must be installed somewhere in the east", said Hubert.

"I knew from last year's satellite study that there could potentially be an emperor colony east of Derwael rise. Because we were operating not far from this the satellite location, I decided to force the way and try to access to this remote and unknown place. The surprise was even more than all I could have expected or dreamed about: I realised while counting the penguins that this was a very populated colony. "

"It was almost midnight when we succeeded in finding a way down to the ice through crevasses and approached the first of five groups of more than a thousand individuals, three quarters of which were chicks. This was unforgettable moment!"

Hubert and Soete were part of a team supporting scientific research on the Derwael Ice Rise, some 50km from the , and 250km from Princess Elisabeth Antarctica. The projects carried out at the site included IceCon, which aims to gain a better understanding of the rate of the loss of ice – now and in the past - from the in the Dronning Maud Land area. The Be:Wise project aims to improve understanding of ice-shelf flow dynamics by focusing on the buttressing role of ice rises and pinning points – small offshore mountains which support Antarctic ice shelves from underneath.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is the world's first zero emission polar research station, and is operated by the International Polar Foundation, in partnership with the Belgian Polar Secretariat. Princess Elisabeth Antarctica's design and construction seamlessly integrates passive building technologies, renewable wind and solar energy, water treatment facilities, continuously monitored power demand and a smart grid for maximising energy efficiency. Located in East Antarctica's Sør Rondane Mountains, Princess Elisabeth Antarctica welcomes scientists from around the world to conduct research in this little-studied and pristine environment.

Explore further: Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

More information: The coordinates for the Ragnhild Coast colony are 27.24713, −69.96615

Paper: Penguins from space: faecal stains reveal the location of emperor penguin colonies - Peter T. Fretwell and Philip N. Trathan
onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1466-8238.2009.00467.x/abstract

Related Stories

Two new emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica

Nov 09, 2012

While about 2500 chicks of emperor penguins are raised this year at the colony close to the French Dumont d'Urville Station, two new colonies totalling 6000 chicks have just been observed about 250 km away, ...

Keeping warm: Coordinated movements in a penguin huddle

Jun 01, 2011

To survive temperatures below -50 C and gale-force winds above 180 km/h during the Antarctic winter, Emperor penguins form tightly packed huddles and, as has recently been discovered – the penguins actually ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

13 hours ago

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

US gives threatened status to northern long-eared bat

15 hours ago

The federal government said Wednesday that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened, giving new protections to a species that has been nearly wiped out in some areas by the spread of a fungal ...

Mice sing like songbirds to woo mates

16 hours ago

Male mice sing surprisingly complex songs to seduce females, sort of like songbirds, according to a new Duke study appearing April 1 in the Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience.

A new crustacean species found in Galicia

17 hours ago

One reason that tourists are attracted to Galicia is for its food. The town of O Grove (Pontevedra) is well known for its Seafood Festival and the Spider Crab Festival. A group of researchers from the University ...

Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

18 hours ago

(Phys.org)—The results of a study conducted to see how well ants carry out their search activities in space are in, and the team that sent them there has written and published the results in the journal ...

Rats found able to recognize pain in other rat faces

18 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Japan with affiliations to several institutions in that country, has found that lab rats are able to recognize pain in the faces of other rats and avoid them ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.