Scientists Find New Way to Count Penguins in Antarctica

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. congregate / ˈkɒŋ grɪˌgeɪt / (v) – to gather in large numbers

    People began to congregate near the stage to hear the president’s speech.

  2. autonomous / ɔˈtɒn ə məs / (adj) – capable of functioning independently without direct control

    Despite being expensive, autonomous cars are getting more and more popular.

  3. breeding / ˈbri dɪŋ / (n) – the process of reproduction in plants and animals

    Penguins normally gather in huge groups during their breeding season.

  4. carry out / ˈkær i aʊt / (phrasal) – to complete or perform a task

    The scientists were able to carry out their experiment even with a small budget.

  5. inefficient / ˌɪn ɪˈfɪʃ ənt / (adj) – describing something that involves wasting effort or resources

    Our company is thinking of replacing inefficient methods to speed up production.


Read the text below.

Stanford University researchers have designed and used a unique drone system to survey penguin colonies in Antarctica.

Penguin colonies are important in tracking the state of global warming because they live in areas vulnerable to climate change. When surveying the penguins, scientists often get inaccurate data because the animals congregate in large groups.

To make surveying penguin colonies easier and more precise, the researchers used autonomous drones. The devices were programmed to fly over fixed paths and take images of areas with penguins. The researchers assembled the individual photos taken by the drones to get an accurate image of the colony and then counted the penguins one by one.

The researchers tested four drones at Cape Crozier and Cape Royds, which are home to two penguin colonies that together have 303,000 breeding pairs. In less than three hours, the drones were able to take 2,000 clear photos.

This task usually takes two days to carry out using helicopters or a single drone piloted by humans. Using helicopters produces good quality photos but is costly, fuel-inefficient, and produces sounds that can disturb the penguins. Using one drone is limiting because of its short battery life, and it is time-consuming and difficult to navigate.

In the future, the team plans to equip the drones with artificial intelligence to survey and count penguins simultaneously. Apart from surveying penguins, the researchers also think the drones could be useful for monitoring traffic and wildfires, assessing building damage, and mapping terrain.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• How often do you think people should evaluate if existing systems/processes are still effective and efficient? Discuss.
• Are there systems/processes in your community that you think should be changed because they are costly and inefficient? Explain.

Discussion B

• Do you think knowing the exact population of animal species is a good use of money? Why or why not?
• Apart from knowing the exact population of animal species, what else should scientists study more about animals (e.g. how diseases are passed from one animal to another, how animals detect incoming natural disasters)? Explain.