British scientists are using satellite images to find colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctica through bird droppings. While their natural camouflage makes them blend into the shadows of the sea ice where they breed, their droppings, or guano, show up perfectly from space. “We can’t see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn’t good enough,” says mapping expert Peter Fretwell. “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.” Reddish brown patches of guano on the ice, visible in satellite images, provide a reliable indication of their location. British Antarctic Survey Penguin ecologist Dr Phil Trathan says, “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. Using satellite images combined with counts of penguin numbers puts us in a much better position to monitor future population changes over time.” This is indeed some droppings worth picking up.
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