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Hidden, never-before-seen penguin colony spotted from space

A never-before-seen emperor penguin colony — one of only 66 known to exist — has been spotted by accident in satellite photographs of West Antarctica that clearly show their guano, or droppings, staining the ice.

The colony is estimated to be home to about 1,000 adult birds, in 500 pairs with their young, which makes it relatively small for an emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) breeding site. But it’s an important addition to what’s known of the species.

So far, scientists have found 66 emperor penguin colonies on the coast of Antarctica; many of them are in remote regions and have been seen only in satellite photographs. (Image credit: Peter Fretwell/BAS)

Peter Fretwell (opens in new tab), a geographic information officer with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), discovered the colony in December; but the announcement was delayed so that it coincided with Penguin Awareness Day, which is held on Jan. 20 each year.

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