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Space Science

Emperor Penguins Counted From Space 102

HairyNevus writes "An international team of scientists used satellite technology to conduct a census of emperor penguin populations from outer space. Honing in on their colonies by looking for the brown patches of penguin guano that stand out in the snowy antarctic, high resolution images were taken and used to count the total number of emperor penguin species on the continent. The result was a census of 595,000 penguins, almost double the previous estimates of 270,000-350,000 emperors. This includes seven new colonies which had not been previously identified. Although this is uplifting data, computer modeling still shows that loss of ice flows in the northern reaches could result in problems for the penguins."
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Emperor Penguins Counted From Space

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are they super-intelligent Hive-Mind Killer Penguins planning to take over the world?

    They are headed North...straight towards humanity.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Nope, and not blind albino penguins sharing a cave with a shoggoth the size of a train either.
    • They are headed North...straight towards humanity.

      Ah, where the hoomans are. Even after RTFA I couldn't work out exactly where the northern reaches of Antarctica were.

    • They are headed North...straight towards humanity.

      You see, when you live in the Antarctica, your traveling options are kind of limited. Go visit the South Pole, stand on top of it and try go anywhere else then towards north. Try going west, for example. You'll have a lot of fun.

      • by dargaud ( 518470 )
        That's how I explain it to people who ask question such as "What was before the Big Bang?". The question doesn't make any sense because time was created at the same time than the Big Bang. It's exactly like asking "What is farther south than the south pole ?!?". And yes, I've been there just to check []... C;-)
        • And yes, I've been there just to check []... C;-)

          Your pics from a 300 Club event or it didn't happen! :D

          (BTW, is the answer "136.575 Kelvins"?)

          • by dargaud ( 518470 )

            Your pics from a 300 Club event or it didn't happen! :D

            (BTW, is the answer "136.575 Kelvins"?)

            Here [] (in 1996) and here [] (in 2005). Happy ?

            You mean -136.575 Celsius, right ? C;-)

            • by petman ( 619526 )

              (BTW, is the answer "136.575 Kelvins"?)

              You mean -136.575 Celsius, right ? C;-)

              I would beg to differ with that. Cold is a subjective perception. From a human's point of view, anything lower than body temperature is "cold", and anything higher is "hot". So, let' say we take body temperature as 37 deg C. 0 deg C is -37 degrees below the point of reference. So twice as cold as 0 degrees would be -74 degrees below body temperature i.e. -37 deg C.

  • by Anonymous Coward


  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now we know the exact number of Linux desktop users world-wide.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The most expensive alternative to counting sheep has been developed.

  • Species (Score:4, Insightful)

    by adam.voss ( 1854938 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @08:53PM (#39689913)

    the total number of emperor penguin species on the continent.

    Can a satellite really tell us the number is not 1?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Although this is uplifting data, computer modeling still shows we all must continue to vote Democrat.

  • by notgm ( 1069012 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @08:59PM (#39689951)

    how many shoggoths?

    • One. But it looks like many.
    • Now you've got me wondering what the maximum resolution of a shoggoth's eye complex is, if it puts every bit of pseudo-protoplasm it can into forming eyes. What's the maximum light gathering area for a 40 cubic meter volume typical shoggoth, and does it compare favorably with the Hubble, the Keck telescopes or the very long baseline array? Can a shoggoth count the satellites in orbit? And does it want to eat them? Can a satellite fail a 1D20 sanity roll? And how could we tell?

  • The video in the article mentions that the computer does most of the counting and I get the feeling that surveying animal count from aerial photographs might only work with penguins in Antarctica. It's relatively easy to distinguish between snow, poop and penguin from a computer vision algorithm stand point seeing how it boils down to distinguishing between black or brownish spots with little noise from other unwanted objects. Not that I'm trying to say it's trivial to program it but it it's a lot simpler p
    • by Psychotria ( 953670 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @09:39PM (#39690105)

      From the paper []:

      Emperor penguins show
      as single or multiple pixels in the panchromatic band. Where
      penguins are dispersed, individuals can be identified and counted.
      However, in the majority of cases penguins group into close
      clusters and their shadows overlap, meaning that individuals
      cannot be differentiated and a different approach is needed.

      So it's not really as easy as it may first appear.

  • It would have been MUCH cooler had they counted Gentoo Penguins from space.
  • Penguin Guano? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 )
    Is guano produced by others or is "penguin guano" redundant?
    • Difficult question to answer: []

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Guano is probably most often used to refer to bat guano, but sometimes for various birds too.

    • Guano is generally construed as being the excrement of seabirds (under which penguins are classified), bats, and seals. So, no, "penguin guano" is not redundant, as it distinguishes it from the guano of non-penguin seabirds, bats or seals.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @10:30PM (#39690335)
      Bats, equitorial seabirds, arctic seabirds and many things that crap in one place in large volumes produce guano. It is a word cool and exotic enough to be in a list of ingredients for an energy drink, but it really does just mean deposits of crap that have built up over a long time. In some places it's a valuble resource due to it being a easily obtained source of nitrogen for fertilizer and explosives. In the days of gunpowder it was paticularly valuble and was apparently a major source of income for countries like Chile.
    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      The funny thing is that I keep getting asked about penguin poop []... And now they've found a use for it (counting them).
  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @09:19PM (#39690031)
    I got this picture of a Google Earth car driving through a group of penguins.
  • They're COMING!
    • by vencs ( 1937504 )
      looks like the software counted the shadows of the penguins too, ending up double the number!
  • by cayce ( 189143 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @09:20PM (#39690041)

    And I, for one, welcome our new penguin alien overlords.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @09:22PM (#39690049)

    It's the only way to be sure.

  • by loftwyr ( 36717 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @09:29PM (#39690083)
    An international team of scientists used satellite technology to conduct a census of emperor penguin populations from outer space

    How do you tell which ones are from outer space?
    • >How do you tell which ones are from outer space?

      The ones that do the counting. (Emporer penguins counted from outerspace)
    • well if you saw the pictures I seriously doubt that this is accurate

      the "image recognition" is basically counting blocks (with attributes) its not very good (I've seen it)

      the satellite imagery from space was awful resolution... they need to learn from search and rescue basically they need to gather their search pattern from the satellite and then fly a plane/helicopter/drone (U2 plane would be best) over and take the imagery and do a count based on that...

      I think everyone was assuming the imagery was like g

    • by rts008 ( 812749 )

      LOL! Well done!
      I would have replied sooner, but a mishap* caused an unavoidable delay.

      * I almost swallowed my false teeth, you insensitive clod!
      Let me tell ya, it's not easy performing a Heimlich maneuver on yourself using the back of a swiveling, reclining, office chair on wheels....on a slick tile floor, while spewing beer out of the nose!

      Good thing I took a double shot of Geritol this morning!!!! ;-)

      A terrible waste of good beer, though....

    • by devitto ( 230479 )

      Duh. The ones with pointy ears.

  • We could just have "go out & be counted" days, ie, to see how many people we are on Earth.

    Of, for public opinion surveys (& citizen initated referenda), to vote, say, In Favor, you'd go out to have the top of your head photographed, in a Hi-Res satellite image. :-)

    These mechanisms have -none- of the security issues of eVoting systems I've read about (except the PhotoShop issues, I guess).

    And they'd be pretty hard to dispute, by dictators, if their elections were held by such means.

    Shall we call this

  • by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @10:05PM (#39690223)

    There's no such phrase as "honing in" on something.

    That phrase is similar to "intensive purposes", in that it results from a perpetuated mishearing of another phrase. You can "home in" on something - the phrase is "homing in". But to 'hone' means to sharpen (one's blade, one's skills, one's wit etc.)

    I am sure some will find some links that suggest that it's such a common mishearing that it has now become acceptable, but I don't agree. Both the Merriam-Webster (for US English) and the OED (for UK/Commonwealth English) state that "hone in" is an error.

  • i'm sorry slashdot, i don't care how much rovio paid you, "angry birds space" is not something we need plastered...

    oh wait, never mind

  • by bryan1945 ( 301828 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @10:36PM (#39690359) Journal

    Is this a new thing? Are they taking over our bases? What do they want!!!!

  • I'm deeply suspicious whenever a new unproven methodologies yield wildly different data than previous methodologies.

    Was the methodology itself tested against known quantities?

  • ...did the penguins topple over backwards as they watched the satellite pass overhead? (OK I know it's a popular myth, long propagated by bored RAF pilots and long debunked by British Antarctic Survey experiments, but it's still a funny image).

  • high resolution images were taken and used to count the total number of emperor penguin species on the continent

    Since emperor penguins are a species, how can they count more than one species of Emperor Penguin?

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @11:09PM (#39690521)

    It isn't mentioned in the article but the technology isn't yet advanced enough to count the penguins while they are moving, so the satellite had to kill them all using a death ray. They hope to have this problem resolved for next years census, which is predicted to be much quicker.

  • Reason: Whales (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @11:31PM (#39690601)

    One reason the population of penguins is increasing, is because of the huge reduction in the baleen whale population in the Southern Ocean. Baleen whales and penguins compete for the same krill, so fewer whales means a lot more food for the penguins. When the whale populations rebound, the penguins population will return to normal.

  • by AragornSonOfArathorn ( 454526 ) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @11:50PM (#39690679)

    They know their shit. Solid scientists.

  • That scares me, emperor penguins must be the most dangerous creature on Earth if they can only be counted from space.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Damn, now breeding even more genetically modified penguins for taking over the world has become to risky...

  • You gotta love the spin on this.

    - scientists count birds, find twice as many as previous counts/expectations (TFA doesn't say whether the original estimates were counts or just estimates)

    So if they found twice as many birds as they previously counted/estimated, and climate change has been going on for 20/50/200 years, surely the penguins are in fact benefiting from climate change?

    Seems logical to me. They live in a extreme environment, climate change will make it less extreme, therefore they should be

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      Why do you have to spin this ? Everybody knows that climate change is not 'universally bad'. Places like Canada and Siberia are very likely to benefit from it. As for getting different numbers of penguins from two DIFFERENT methods, it doesn't tell you anything about the effect of global warming. You need to compare numbers obtained from the same method. Since this method is new, it's a non sequitur.
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Places like Canada and Siberia are very likely to benefit from it.


        We think "global warming" means "temperatuers are going to rise" and while they are, that doesn't mean that chilly parts get warmer.

        It could mean we get less severe winters (good), but more severe summers (bad). Or current models show that what happens is we get an oscillation that reaches even more extremes. Winters get colder, and summers get hotter. Rather than cold areas getting more temperate (and temperate areas turning to desert)

  • ... based on incomplete information, while insisting that the models are still valid and the situation is still dire. What is more likely is that the penguins will adapt to their environmental changes ... as they have for millenia. Remember? They didn't just arrive on the planet and occupy their niche a few years ago.

    Love the science but am mightily weary of doom and gloom alarmist extrapolations to secure funding or public interest.

    I wonder if, in the penguin colonies, there are alarmist penguins saying

  • If the climate models are correct
    and if the ice shelves behave according to their models
    and if predators move in to the niche (presumably according to some model)
    and if, importantly, the penguins themselves in no way adapt to the changing situation
    then the penguins MAY be affected.

    Each 'if' contributes an error that makes for a big margin over all. Why not just say, 'we really don't know what this means for the future, but we're hoping to develop a better understanding of the present' ... and nothing more.

    • Short form: If we move some polar bears to the south pole, they will have plenty of food to survive. The Penguins WILL be affected. If we put the penguins in cute little Purina Polar Bear Chow red and white checked tee-shirts they will be affected more rapidly.

  • "Two-hundred-thousand and four... two-hundred-thousand and five..."

    "Okay, so that's a six-piece nugget for Dave, two large vanilla shakes for me 'n Joe... Tim? What did you want, makin' a lunch run."

    "One... sec... two-hundred-thousand and si--"

    "Mike, you're grabbing lunch? Cool, get me two apple pies."

    "They have strawberry too, now."

    "Ooh, then two of each--four total."

    "Two-hundred-pies and four... oh god."

  • This is really awesome news, I've always wanted to shoot an emperor, but they won't let me into Japan for some reason.

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.