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Global Ideas

Citizen science reveals penguin secrets

Citizen scientists are helping biologists shed light on the lives of penguins in Antarctica by viewing time-lapse photos.

Photo: Adelie penguins (Source: © Alain De Broyer)

Penguin Watch has published thousands of penguin photos as part of its citizen science project

Ever wondered what penguins get up to when nobody's watching? Citizen science project, Penguin Watch, has just released 500,000 new images of the flightless birds in the hopes it will reveal their secrets and help conservation efforts.

The project launched in 2014 and led by Oxford University scientists with support from the Australian Antarctic Division, asks people to go online and count penguins in images taken by remote cameras monitoring almost 100 colonies in Antarctica.

Scientists hope the results from the latest batch of photos published to coincide with World Penguin Day on April 25 will help them discover how climate change and human activity affect breeding and feeding and why some penguin species thrive as others decline in a bid to conserve them.

"The problem is that penguins face different challenges across their range, which could be from climate change, from fisheries or direct human disturbance," said Tom Hart of Oxford University's Department of Zoology in a #link:http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2015-04-25-secret-life-penguins-revealed-world-penguin-day:statement#. "Having many more sites monitored and comparing high- versus low-fished sites, for example, will enable us to work out which of these threats are causing changes to penguin populations and how we might mitigate them."

Monitoring penguin colonies during breeding season has proven problematic in the past because the areas are extremely difficult to access at the beginning of the season, according to the statement.

But the combination of time-lapse cameras and 1.5 million eagle-eyed citizen scientists has already alerted the project's researchers to some surprising secret penguin behaviors. For instance, penguins apparently inadvertently use their #link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxqBujyE0io&feature=youtu.be:poop to melt ice# so they can breed.

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