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Humans Visit Emperor Penguin Colony in Antarctica for First Time

Jan 09, 2013 06:53 AM EST

Three explorers have confirmed the presence of a 9,000-colony of emperor penguins in east Antarctica, reports LiveScience.

The existence of a large colony of emperor penguins was first discovered using satellite imagery in 2009. Researchers observed the fecal stains of the penguins, which revealed their location.

For the first time, a team of explorers from Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctica polar research station confirmed that there is a strong colony of penguins on Antarctica's Princess Ragnhild Coast in early December 2012.

The explorers are the polar research station's expedition leader Alain Hubert, mechanic Kristof Soete and Swiss mountain guide Raphael Richard.

Hubert and Soete were carrying out scientific research on the Derwael ice rise, located about 31 miles from the penguins' location. They were working to understand the rate at which ice is lost to the sea from the east Antarctic ice sheet due to global warming.

"I knew from last year's satellite study that there could potentially be an emperor colony east of Derwael ice rise. Because we were operating not far from this satellite location, I decided to force the way and tried to access this remote and unknown place. The surprise was even more than all I could have expected or dreamed about: I realized while counting the penguins that this was a very populated colony," Hubert said in a statement from the International Polar Foundation.

"It was almost midnight when we succeeded in finding a way down to the ice through crevasses and approached the first of five groups of more than a thousand individuals, three quarters of which were chicks. This was an unforgettable moment!"

Emperor penguins are the largest of all the penguin species that spend their life on Antarctic ice, which is one of the fastest warming places on Earth. On an average, they can grow about 45 inches tall and weigh about 90 pounds, according to the LiveScience report. 

Researchers note that the population of the emperor penguins is expected to decline in the future, owing to the increase in global temperatures. 

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