Little Penguin leaves a legacy

May 11, 2012

Murdoch researchers have said farewell to an old friend, a 20-year-old Little Penguin that has provided them with a wealth of information about the species.

The penguin, first banded by the researchers as a chick, was discovered injured in Warnbro Sound, south of Penguin Island and later died.

Dr Belinda Cannell of Murdoch University said the penguin had provided herself and the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) with a huge amount of information about the life of penguins on land and sea.

“He was really big and very protective and lived a long life, longer than most penguins,” Dr Cannell said.

“Like many other penguins, he was regularly seen nesting on Penguin Island where he raised his own chicks. He contributed so much to his colony.”

Penguins are ideal sentinels of a healthy coastal marine environment as they indicate the health of the local fish stocks that the penguins, larger fish and anglers rely on. They are also sensitive to small shifts in temperature and disturbance.

“Through years of tracking the penguins, we now understand a lot more about the colony and the ever changing environment and pressures that penguins are facing,” Dr Cannell said.

“Some are natural changes which drive variation in the availability of fish that penguins rely on to raise chicks, while others are the result of our activity, both locally and globally.”

In the last 20 years visitors to Penguins Island have approximately doubled with more boats, kitesurfers, windsurfers and jet skis found in the local waters where Little Penguins feed.

“Penguins are largely shallow water divers and are vulnerable to injuries and deaths from water craft,” Dr Cannell said.

“Penguins are also affected by coastal development, pollution and fishing.

“We need to manage all these pressures to give penguins a chance to survive larger scale issues such as changes in fish stocks and climate changes like warmer summers, warmer oceans, increasing sea levels, more storms and less rain.”

Alongside its management of Penguin Island, the DEC has implemented the Western Australian Marine Monitoring Program to understand ongoing issues faced by penguins and other assets we have off our coast.

DEC’s Dr Kim Friedman, who coordinates this program, and Dr Cannell have defined what needs to be measured through time to understand critical changes to penguins.

Dr Cannell said more needs to be done for the Little Penguins. “We need a systematic program for finding and assessing injured and dead penguins along our wider coastline,” she said.

“We also need to know how far from the colony the penguins are feeding and how this relates to changes in their diet.”

Assistance and funding from industry, government and the community is needed to support this research.

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