Image Source: https://www.abc.net.au/
A record number of little penguins have crossed the beach at Penguin Parade on Victoria’s Phillip Island and even more remarkably, the record comes outside the traditional spring/summer breeding period.
Phillip Island Nature Parks research officer Paula Wasiak said the record had been broken several times in recent weeks.
“We had the highest number of penguins cross last week with 5,219 penguins crossing our Penguin Parade beach within the 50 minutes of the count, which is amazing,” she said.
“The previous record only happened a few days before and that was just over 4,500 penguins.
“But what’s really unique about these record-breaking nights is that they’re happening now.
“Usually, we have record-breaking nights when the penguins are at the peak of their breeding season, so around November and December.”
Each night last week, between 3,000 and 5,000 penguins came in. Peak numbers in spring and summer are usually 2,500 birds.
“That being said, last November we also had a record-breaking night so that was also over 4,000 birds,” Ms Wasiak said.
Why the record numbers?
Ms Wasiak said conservation efforts that focused on fox eradication and habitat work were likely playing a role in the high numbers.
But she suspected the prolonged La Nina event also may be having an impact on food stocks.
“What we can speculate, to the best of our abilities – it must be really excellent feeding conditions right now for the penguins close to shore,” Ms Wasiak said.
“We’re having a lot of penguins just doing single day trips. Usually when they’re not breeding in the winter, penguins can actually spend up to a month out at sea.”
The population is also in the midst of what is known as the autumn breeding attempt, where older penguins in particular try to breed ahead of winter.
“Older penguins are really tuned in to subtle environmental cues,” Ms Wasiak said.
“In autumn, we do start seeing a slight increase of marine productivity, and these penguins are likely to pick up on these cues.”
Ms Wasiak said this year’s autumn breeding attempt was looking like being the biggest the parks had ever seen.