Phillip Island Fairy Penguins
At just 40 centimetres the Fairy Penguin is the pygmy of the penguin world and found only along the southern coast of Australia and New Zealand, away from the ice and snow usually associated with penguin habitat. The most famous colony in Australia can be found at Phillip Island, 140 kilometres Southeast of Melbourne, in Victoria.
An average adult penguin weighs around one kilogram and lives to around 7 years in the wild, although there have been reported cases of a 20 year lifespan. Equipped with the charm and personality most penguins seem to possess and because of their relative rarity, Fairy Penguins have become vital to the Phillip Island economy. Fortunately for them, as it means extra effort and resources are expended on ensuring their survival.
Fairy (or Little) Penguins
Until recently, the penguin colony at Phillip Island had always been known as Fairy Penguins, but lately there seems to have been a shift to the name "Little Penguins." Whether or not this is due to some form of sensitive political correctness I cannot say, but I stubbornly prefer Fairy Penguins, so that's the term I'll be using. They are also sometimes known as Little Blue Penguins, and in Maori they are called Kororā. Their formal, scientific name is Eudyptula minor.
Breeding Habits of the Fairy Penguin
Male penguins are very flamboyant, noisy courters, singing and performing for females during the breeding season from February to August. The song is very individual and ranges from a low bass rumble to a trumpeting cry, and is accompanied by a dance of flipper, beak and body movements. Only one mate is chosen, but not necessarily for life.
Sensibly, parenting is a shared activity between the couples..both male and female will share incubation duties and when the chicks are hatched, (usually two) parents take it in turns to hunt for food.
Unfortunately only fifteen percent of chicks reached adult maturity, at two years, but most of those who do will return to their colony to breed. Due to their small size young penguins are vulnerable to predators and when food supplies dwindle they are often found dead, having been washed up on the beach.
After breeding the penguins will feed as much as they can to condition themselves for moulting, as during this time they neither eat nor drink.
Life at Sea
Eudyptula is Greek for "good little diver" and indeed, like most penguins, the Fairy Penguin turns from awkward land waddler to elegant swimmer in the water. They are well-adapted for the marine environment and their streamlined shape, webbed feet and flippers allows for securing prey in shallow, short dives.The penguins have a kind of inbuilt wetsuit, as their feathers are oily due to oil glands in their tail, keeping them dry..
They also have claws..useful for digging and climbing slippery rocks and large eyes with flattened corneas so that they can see clearly both under and above water and retinas adapted for spotting movement in poor light.
To protect themselves from predators, mainly sharks and seals, they swim in packs known as "rafts", which are sometimes up to to 300 strong.
On top of these handy features, Fairy Penguins are very cleverly colour camouflaged in that they are dark above the water to blend in with the sea and light below, to emulate surface reflections from above. The Fairy Penguin is an indigo blue as opposed to black and silvery white on the underbelly.
These attributes are necessary as the penguins need to eat 25% of their bodyweight merely to keep in condition - more when moulting or feeding young.
The penguins are remarkable little battlers and swim very long distances when they have to. Normally they swim between 15 km to 50 km daily, but when times are tough and their food supply of fish, squid, krill and small crustaceans dwindle, they have been know to go much farther.
For many years the Phillip Island Fairy Penguins were compelled to share their habitat at Summerland Beach on the south-western shore of the island, with human holiday dwellers who had built their beach houses in amongst the burrows, bringing their pets and cars with them. This was proving to be so devastating to the penguin community that in recent times the land has been reclaimed by a government conservation department and returned to the original inhabitants. Thus the humans have had to evacuate the area and every one of the beach houses bought up and torn down. It is, as far as I know, the first time in Australia a human community has been displaced to make way for another species.
In the following video, presumably taken by a tourist, you can get a close-up peek at a Fairy Penguin and see something of the deep indigo blue colour of their upper feathers. They really are a beautiful little penguin. Note the affection between mates, although it seems a little one sided here.
Up Close and Personal
The Penguin Parade
Fairy Penguins in the wild can seen during their daily sunset parade at Phillip Island, when around 300 to 750 of them waddle up from the sea across the beach to return to their burrows on the mainland. The penguin parade has become a major tourist attraction in Australia, second only to Uluru in popularity. Phillip Island attracts about 3.5 million visitors a year from various parts of the globe, many of whom have come to witness this penguin ritual. They are quite the celebrities, however sunglasses are unnecessary as flash photography from the tourist paparazzi is not allowed.
The Island was named after the first governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, though before that it had been inhabited for thousands of years by the Bunurong people, who called the island Beang Gurt and are thought
to have come to the area about 40,000 years ago, while it was still attached to the mainland.
Comprising an area of approximately 10,000 hectares it has a permanent population of around 7,000, which swells in number during the holiday season.60% of the area is farmland for the grazing of sheep and cattle and the remainder is divied between permanent homes, beach houses and wildlife reserves.
Phillip Island is also home to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and a venue for the Superbike World Championships, V8 Supercars and the Australian Drivers Championships.The racing association dates back to 1928 when it hosted the original Australian Grand Prix.
The 97 kilometre coastline is clean and spectacular and the Island itself is relatively unspoilt, the powers that be having recognised that it's natural features and wildlife are among its chief attractions.
- Phillip Island Nature Parks
Official website of the Phillip Island Penguin Parade. Phillip Island Nature Parks is renowned as Australias most popular natural wildlife attraction. Only 90 minutes from Melbourne, the Nature Parks is an island adventure featuring spectacular coast
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© 2010 Jane Bovary