The recent discovery of a massive emperor penguin colony with more than 9,000 birds is forcing scientists to reconsider their estimates of penguin population numbers in Antarctica.
The penguins were discovered in December 2012 when three staff members from Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Polar Research Station—expedition leader Alain Hubert, mechanic Kristof Soete and Swiss mountain guide Raphael Richard—became the first persons to visit a remote area of the eastern Antarctic coast.
Evidence of the colony was first spotted in 2009, but no one was able to reach the region to confirm the presence of the penguins, according to Discovery News. Satellite photos showed large stains in the snow that scientists believed could be penguin guano.
When the researchers reached the penguin colony, the number of individuals was astonishing. There were five distinct groups of the emperor penguins comprising at least a thousand birds each, and more than 75 percent of the penguins were chicks.
The discovery is a positive indication for the health of penguins in Antarctica. Scientists previously believed that the populations could be dwindling due to the disappearance of pack ice caused by global warming.
Emperor penguins are the largest of the penguin species. On average, they grow up to 45 inches tall and weigh around 90 pounds. Although the number of these penguins is likely to decline if the continent continues to warm, the population seems safe for now.