The existence of a 9000-strong emperor penguin colony in East Antarctica has been confirmed by three explorers who visited it for the first time.
Discovery News reports that signs of the penguins were spotted by satellite in 2009, but it wasn't until early December 2012 that three people from Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctica polar research station glimpsed the penguins for themselves.
The first three visitors were the station's expedition leader Alain Hubert, mechanic Kristof Soete and Swiss mountain guide Raphael Richard.
The explorers decided not to chance a trip to the suspected colony earlier due to bad weather. But in early December the weather let up, and they arrived at the colony in the dead of night.
"It was almost midnight when we succeeded in finding a way down to the ice through crevasses and approached the first of five groups of more than a thousand individuals, three quarters of which were chicks," said Hubert in a statement released by the research station.
Scientists estimate the population of emperor penguins of Antarctica is larger than once thought. Satellite imagery has helped to find previously unknown colonies like this one, by pinpointing stains from penguin feces as well as spotting the penguins themselves.