WATCH: Scientists now estimate twice as many Happy Feet penguins live in Antarctica

Adélie penguins near Casey Research Station. © Peter Layt/ Australian Antarctic Division

Scientists have increased their best estimate of how many Adélie penguins – the type Happy Feet’s Ramon and Carmen are based on – live in East Antarctica to 6 million, or about to 3.6 million more than previously calculated.

The research by a team of Australian, French and Japanese scientists used aerial and ground surveys, tagging and resighting data, and automated camera images over several breeding seasons.

Adélie penguins are the same type featured in the movie Happy Feet as the Amigos — Ramon, Nestor, Lombardo, Rinaldo and Raul.

The researchers focused on a 5000 kilometre stretch of coastline in East Antarctica, estimating 5.9 million birds and extrapolating that out to a likely global estimate of 14 million to 16 million.

Previous population estimates only took into account breeding pairs.

“Non-breeding birds are harder to count because they are out foraging at sea, rather than nesting in colonies on land,” says Australian Antarctic Division seabird ecologist Dr Louise Emmerson.

“However, our study in East Antarctica, has shown that non-breeding Adélie penguins may be as, or more, abundant than the breeders.

“These birds are an important reservoir of future breeders and estimating their numbers ensures we better understand the entire population’s foraging needs.”

Watch the penguins in action:

The rocky, ice-free areas preferred by the penguins for nesting is also a region preferred for research stations due to ease of resupply.

There are currently nine permanently occupied research stations in the ice-free areas of East Antarctica.

The researchers found that more than one million birds, or 29% of the population, breed within 10 kilometres of a station and 44% within 20 km of a station.

The research also estimates the amount of krill and fish needed to support the Adelie penguin population.

About 193,500 tonnes of krill and 18,800 tonnes of fish are eaten during the breeding season by Adelie penguins in East Antarctica.

This information will be used by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to set sustainable krill fishery catch limits.

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