Penguins on the shore of Deception Island, Antarctica.
Credit: Martin Bureau

Penguins may be more plentiful in Antarctica than thought previously, according to a new study.

A team of international researchers, led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) found that the number of penguins on the continent likely number up to 600,000, double the number of previous estimates.

"We are delighted to be able to locate and identify such a large number of emperor penguins," said lead author and BAS geographer Peter Fretwell, according to AFP.

"This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space."

The team used satellite photos to estimate the number of penguins in each colony along the coast using technology that allows scientists to distinguish between animals, snow, and guano (animal feces), said Science Daily.

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The Wall Street Journal reported that four previously undiscovered penguin colonies were found, while confirming the location of three others, finding 44 colonies in total.

"Most of the time it is impossible to take into consideration every single colony, but now we are in a position that we can actually compare how the sea ice environment changes and hopefully continue to monitor the population - and see which ones may or may not be decreasing in size," said Barbara Wienecke, a sea bird ecologist with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), according to Reuters.

Emperor penguins are the largest breed, often standing up to 4 feet tall and are unable to fly.

Many scientists have worried that climate change may threaten penguin colonies with early spring warming meaning a loss of habitat.

Their results are published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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