The Secret Lives of Penguins

Sixteen “hidden” cameras planted by scientists have survived some of the planet’s harshest winter conditions to capture the annual activities of penguin colonies in Antarctica.

Researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) journeyed over 9,000 miles south to set up 16 cameras around Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia. Penguin research normally takes place in the summer, when scientists can get to the colonies, but they often miss the start of breeding. Now, time-lapse cameras have allowed researchers to record parts of the penguin life cycle which normally go unseen, when humans are not there.

The footage captured gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) at Brown Bluff on the Antarctic Peninsula and King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) huddling over winter at Salisbury Plain on South Georgia. The camera at Brown Bluff was covered by a snow drift for part of the winter, but continued to take photos throughout.

ZSL researcher Dr. Ben Collen says: “ Antarctica is one of the world’s least explored regions, making it all the more important for us to collect worthwhile data on wildlife. New information is vital for making informed conservation decisions, so we are able to best manage species under pressure and deal with the wider global implications of climate change”.

Environmental issues, expansion of fisheries and the danger of disease all pose new threats to penguins, making monitoring them essential. Cheap technology could expand monitoring even when science budgets are tight. The cameras were placed in a variety of positions overlooking colonies in Antarctica, and captured a number of images a day showing the movements of penguins, including their time of arrival, breeding and fledging of young chicks.

Penguinologist, Dr. Tom Hart added: “ Antarctica is larger than Europe, but only a handful of penguin colonies are carefully observed. Using cameras that cost less than £500 each could revolutionize the way we study Antarctic wildlife.”

Scientists from ZSL and the University of Oxford continue the development of a new monitoring system for the southern polar region. They will help to design protected areas in the Antarctic, and answer questions about the response of penguins to their changing world.

Find out more about ZSL's conservation work with penguins in Antarctica

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