A question I regularly get is how many birds are at a certain colony, like this one in St Andrews Bay, South Georgia. The estimation is around 150.000 breeding pairs (which totals to nearly half a million individuals…). The next question normally is how do they know, how do you count this many penguins? Normally these large groups are counted through extrapolation: you count a certain number, see what area those penguins need and then see how often that area fits into the total colony. If the birds are more or less equally spread throughout the colony you have a decent estimate of the size of the colony.
What is much more difficult to get are things like predation rate, nest survival rate, timing of incubation and colony use outside the summer season. For things like that you need to observe a colony for a long time, not an easy thing to do in the harsh climate of the south. But now they’ve come up with something new, and you can help! Unfortunately for you, it doesn’t involve a trip to South Georgia or Antarctica, but you can do it at the computer at home. Log in to the site of penguin watch and you get to see photos taken at various penguin colonies and you’re asked to mark adult penguin, chicks, eggs and other things. With cameras present year round this gives scientists a very valuable dataset that would otherwise be really difficult to get.
So if you’ve got some moments to spare and would like to take part in real science, have a look at the penguins!