Sorry for playing with a favorite line from the film “Dr. Strangelove,” featuring Peter Sellers in multiple roles including a bumbling British military figure named Bat Guano .It means “bat droppings” and smells worse than anything you could imagine. I never thought I’d see the word guano in a serious story until now when biologists noticed that a specific population of penguins could be estimated by the mounds of guano the birds were leaving behind.
The Gentoo penguins live on a tiny little island chain, the Ardley Islands just off the Antarctic Peninsula. There have been as many as 5,000 breeding pairs of Gentoo Penguins, However, off and on through history, huge volcanic explosions have cut the populations dramatically. Each time, it took about 400 to 800 years to regenerate. And how did the scientists sort all this out? You guessed it—by the amount of guano on the sea floor.
At first, the scientists did not set out to study guano—who does? They were actually looking for changes in air and sea water to go along with climate change studies, However when they were drilling they hit guano.
“When we opened them up they smelt differently (than ordinary sea core material),” Dr. Stephen J. Roberts of The British Antarctic Survey, told the New York Times. I’ll bet!
In all, the Penguins lived through three catastrophic volcano eruptions from the Deception Island volcano. The last event to wipe out the penguins was 3,200 to 3,000 years ago.
Deception Island is a popular vacation spot and many come to see the penguins at Ardley Islandguano. Just don’t dive too far underwater with proper nose gear.