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16 amazing photos from a penguinologist's lens

Little is known about the habits and behaviors…

LITTLE IS KNOWN about the habits and behaviours of the six species of penguins that live in the extreme environments of Antarctica, especially in the winter when conditions are too harsh for scientists to observe them. 

What scientists do know is that some of these species are thriving, while others are dwindling in numbers.

To better understand what could be causing changes in their populations, Tom Hart, a penguinologist at Oxford University, set up cameras in 2014 in spots along the Antarctic coastline where penguins frequent.

Since then, these cameras have recorded video and snapped over 500,000 images of thousands of penguins. Although the team is still reviewing oodles of data they have collected, here’s a small sample of some of the incredible pictures the team collected.

Many species of penguins spend most of their time at sea, making it difficult for scientists to study their behaviour.

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Most Antarctic species will migrate to the shorelines to breed during the fall. It’s on these shorelines that Hart and his team spied on thousands of penguins for a full year.

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One of the only ways to study penguins is to attach GPS trackers on individual birds. The team’s cameras are less invasive and provide a better idea of population size.

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The first thing penguins do when they reach the shore is locate their mate. If they have mated before they relocate that same penguin using a unique call, or song.

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With every penguin trying to relocate their mates, the first few days of mating season can get pretty noisy.

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If the penguins have not mated before, they engage in courtship activities like bowing their heads.

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Another display of courtship is swinging their heads from side to side, like so:

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Hart has discovered that the Adélie penguin species, shown here, are not responding well to warmer climates in the Antarctic Peninsula where their numbers are declining.

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Gentoo penguins, on other hand, are perhaps the only Antarctic penguin species who are adjusting well to the warmer climates.

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Emperor penguins are the largest of all the 17 penguin species in the world. These birds are famous for having the most stressful breeding habits of any penguin species because they travel miles inland to breed during the harshest time of year: winter.

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Recently, Hart with an international team of scientists studied the genetic make-up of different colonies of emperor penguins to ultimately discover how this sturdy breed survived the last ice age nearly 20,000 years ago by taking refuge in the Ross Sea.

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Although they can’t fly, penguins soar through water. They use their flippers for propulsion and their feet as a rudder. Capable of exceeding 12 mph, they can hold their breath for 15 to 20 minutes and dive over 250 feet below the surface.

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The Antarctic coastlines aren’t just a popular place for penguins. These seals don’t seem to mind the company, but this Adélie penguin looks a bit disgruntled.

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Although Hart and the team are still analyzing the data, they did report one interesting find from their latest Antarctic expeditions: If the ground is too cold for breeding, some penguin species will use their poo to warm it up.

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Hart and his team recently launched a citizen science project called Penguin Watch that released 500,000 new images of penguins asking the public to help his team individually count the number of penguins in each photo. How many can you count in this photo?

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Everyone who registers to help out with Penguin Watch can also enter to win a trip to Antarctica to see the penguins for yourself. As of April, more than 1.5 million people have volunteered.

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All pics courtesy of Tom Hart and the Penguin Watch Project. 

Looking for a summer job? How about working as a postmaster in Antarctica?

More: The oldest man in Australia spends his time knitting tiny jumpers for tiny penguins

Read: Three penguin chicks stolen from Norwegian aquarium 

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