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In December 2012, three men braved Antarctica's treacherous and remote Princess Ragnhild Coast to seek out a colony of Emperor Penguins that has hitherto just been suspected to exist. They were not disappointed!
Alain Hubert who works with the glaciologists conducting scientific research on Antarctica's Daerwael Ice Rise said that he encountered so many Emperor Penguins on a daily basis that he was convinced that there was a colony not too far off. His suspicions were confirmed by 2009 satellite images taken by the British Antarctic Survey and the US National Environment Research Council which revealed a large amount of guano or fecal matter indicating that there maybe indeed a penguin colony in the area.
Therefore, he along with station chief mechanic Kristof Soete and Swiss mountain guide Raphael Richard decided to go exploring and see if could be the first ones to find the colony. In December 2012, after traveling a distance of about 250 km from the research center, the group finally managed to find its way through the ice crevasses where the colony was suspected to exist. Their hunch proved right - They were immediately approached by five groups of more than a thousand individuals, three quarters of which, happened to be chicks. All in all, the researchers estimate that there were about 9,000 of the majestic creatures walking around.
Emperor Penguins, the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species can only be found on the sea ice that surrounds a large part of the coast of Antarctica. While scientists estimate that there are between 200,000 to 400,000 pairs that inhabit the region, exact numbers have been difficult to confirm. That's because the size of the colonies that range from a few hundred to few thousand pairs are all located in very inaccessible area. Also, thanks to their coloring they tend to blend into the shadows of white sea ice, making them impossible to see even via satellite. The only thing that the satellites are able to detect is the guano in areas that have large groups of penguins, because it stains the sea ice light brown.
However, finding the actual existence and the approximate size of a colony like Alain was able to, is very crucial to get an accurate assessment of their numbers. That's because changes in the sea ice on which these magnificent animals breed, can affect the size of their colonies - A more accurate count therefore helps us monitor future penguin population changes and how they are being impacted by climate change, not to mention, some magnificent photos!