Waddling across the shores of Summerland Beach are the littlests of their kind, the fairies of Phillip Island. I’m not talking about fairies and Cinderella’s fairy godmother but about the Australia’s fairy penguins or little penguins.
Measuring up to 43 cm in length, these hardworking seabirds sport a slate-blue plumage on the head and the upper parts with white underneath from the chin to the belly no wonder why they’re called blue penguins in New Zealand.
The little penguins, also known as korora in Maori, are found mostly on the coastlines of southern Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Chatham Islands. They can also be found on the shores of Chile and South Africa.
The silvery and hazel-eyed penguins are no flight risk because they don’t fly. They developed their wings instead into flippers so they can swim. They’re excellent swimmers and can dive up to 2 meters deep in the ocean. Hard working as they are known to be, they fish from dawn till dusk. At the break of day, they would march into the sea; at sunrise, they parade across the beach toward their burrows in the dunes bringing home some fish for their young.
Their average lifespan is 6.5 years, but they can live up to 25 years. They live in large colonies where they build their breeding grounds. In Australia, most little penguin colonies are located on offshore islands so they are protected from predators and from humans. Phillip Island is one of their largest colonies in the shorelines of Victoria. There are about 32,000 breeding pairs or around 70,000 individuals living on the island.
Little penguins are vulnerable to feral terrestrial predators and to abusive humans. Penguins suffered harassment and cruelty by humans. They collide with vehicles, entangled with fishing lines and nets, and their natural habitats were burned and cleared for real estate development. In the early part of the 20th century, blue penguins were hunted in a commercial scale in Tasmania. The penguins were kicked, thrown off a cliff, and shot in Phillip Island in 1949. As recently as March 2016, humans kicked and attacked the penguins in St Kilda, Victoria.
Despite their dark history of interacting with humans, the little penguins have contributed big time to Phillip Island’s economy. Their famous daily “penguin parade” has been a major tourist attraction on the island. In a sense, humans have redeemed themselves by appreciating the little penguins and made money in the process. But as to the little penguins, they don’t earn a single cent and neither do they pay taxes. But they enjoyed protection from compassionate humans of Australia.
Conservation efforts are underway to protect the little penguins. Working together with WWF, Autopia promotes responsible tourism to protect the environment. We discourage people from throwing plastics to the ocean. Plastics are hazardous to sea creatures; they’re dangerous to penguins too.
The daily penguin parade, best viewed during sunset, is simply magical and fascinating. As the cute seabirds waddle their way across the beach in groups, humans can enjoy the spectacle without obstructing the little penguins’ ritual.