Penguins From Space: Study Tracks Emperor Penguin Populations

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The Emperor Penguin is an icon of the Antarctic. Image Credit: Linder6580

How many Emperor Penguins are there, really?

They breed in the harsh, cold darkness of the Antarctic. Many of them have never encountered a human before, not even the researchers who also brave the winter to find and count them. They’re emperor penguins, and they’re vital to understanding the impacts of climate change on Antarctic ecosystems.

The Emperor Penguin: Facts About An Iconic Species

In spite of the fact that most humans will never see an emperor penguin, these birds that live in the chill of the Antarctic have captured the human imagination. Every year, the birds make a journey to their breeding grounds. The female leads a single egg, which the male keeps warm. Over the course of two months, the male emperor penguin takes care of the egg in an environment that we warmth-loving humans can’t even imagine. The male penguin loses over a third of his body weight during this time, since he cannot feed. After the chick hatches, the parents take turns caring for it and feeding.

The Challenges of Studying the Emperor Penguin

In spite of the human fascination with the penguin, we’ve never visited or counted many of the emperor penguin’s colonies. The penguin is thought to be endangered, but it’s hard to tell when they’re so difficult to count. Getting a baseline population estimate is complicated, when the Antarctic is so cold, dark, and inaccessible.

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