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Satellites track health and population of seals and penguins

Antarctica: Researchers are using high-resolution imagery shot from satellites to find, count and asses the health and population trends of penguin and seal colonies around the Antarctica.

In a report published in ‘The Arctic Sun’, Heather Lynch, an active user and advisory member of the Polar Geospatial Center (PGC), based at the University of Minnesota, stated, “The satellite imagery is the most important advancement in my field since satellite tagging. I think it’s an absolute game-changer.” Lynch was further quoted saying, “We can look through the imagery and find colonies that we never knew existed, and look at population changes at colonies that were either inaccessible because of their location or they were impossible to census because of their size.”

According to Lynch, extensive fieldwork and familiarity with each species’ ecology helped with interpretation of the satellite pictures. Researchers use these pictures to asses the population trends of polar region’s most iconic animals, including Weddell seals and emperor penguins.

Lauding the project, a research fellow at the PGC, Michelle LaRue said, “The counts are highly correlated, which basically means what we’re seeing in the satellite images is representative of what’s on the ground at the same general time”.

However, there have some obstacles associated with the imagery, particularly around the Antarctic Peninsula, where clouds often obscure the region, making 90 percent of the imagery unusable.
But researchers believe that in another 5 to 10 years scientists will be able to monitor every penguin colony in the Antarctic, from a handful of birds to groups that are a million strong.

Source: The Antarctic Sun