Explorer Returns to Emperor Penguin Colony in Search of a True Count

Alain Hubert counts penguins as a hobby. His day job is collecting climate data as a summer resident at the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station. For someone needing a penguin fix, he is in the right place. More than a million emperor penguins inhabit the rugged Antarctic coastline. And when satellite images revealed a previously unknown colony near the research center, the Belgian adventurer knew he had to find them and bring back a count.

The satellite images, from a 2009 research project conducted by the British Antarctic Survey and reported in Global Ecology and Biogeography, did not discern individual penguins. Instead they showed large patches of reddish brown guano clearly visible against the white surroundings, evidence of where a penguin colony had spent the winter huddled on the frozen coast.

When researchers decoded the satellite images, they found ten new emperor penguin colonies in 2008 and four more in 2009. Hubert studied the results and saw on the map that one colony was located not far from his research facility. That was all the incentive he needed to start searching in his spare time around the Ragnhild coast.

Read the full story on National Geographic News.