Specifically, the researchers are tracking Adelie Penguins to see why there numbers are dropping rapidly. Climate change is one reason the penguin population is declining. Another reason could be that the krill they eat is not so plentiful.
Adelie Penguins live only on Antartica and surrounding ice flows and primarily eat krill along with some fish. Leopard seals are there primary predators.
A specific pair of adult penguins are selected and one of them has a transmitter carefully placed on their back that will later naturally come off during the molt cycle. The transmitter and penguins are followed and plotted in Google Earth.
Then the researchers plot a course for the robot gliders. In this case they use either Remus AUVs or Slocum Electric Gliders (shown here). The Coastal Ocean Observation Lab or COOL has a history of using these gliders and in 2009 sent the Scarlet Knight glider all the way to Spain from New Jersey.
The gliders can travel vast distances and move forward by shifting ballast and moving in a slow down and up motion while underwater. They then surface periodically to transmit their data back to home base. The gliders are able to better track the penguins and provide more information than just a transmitter attached to the penguins. Let’s hope the researchers with the help of the robots discover why the penguins are dying. Click through for a quick video of the adorable penguins.
Thanks to Caitlin for additional penguin information.