10 March 2011

Earthcare St Kilda celebrates 25 years of penguin research

Little penguin at St Kilda: overweight
and ready to moult.
Photo © Earthcare St Kilda Inc.
AUSTRALIA - They may be blue rather than the traditional 25th anniversary gift of silver, but for Earthcare St Kilda the presence of the 1000-odd little penguins is the perfect gift to celebrate 25 years of penguin research in St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria.

Monitoring of the St Kilda penguins began in 1986 with the St Kilda Council's proposal to substantially redevelop the harbour. As part of the proposal, the Council asked Professor Mike Cullen of Monash University to provide a report about the local penguins. Professor Cullen declined the commission, and instead embarked on an independent long-term study of the colony.

Since then, the St Kilda Penguin Study Group, a small band of dedicated research volunteers, have been making fortnightly visits to the breakwater to collect data on the colony. The study group was the catalyst for the formation of Earthcare St Kilda, which now co-ordinates the study as well as other conservation projects.

Technology has certainly changed since the group started monitoring the penguins a quarter of a century ago; now the Earthcare members and volunteers catch the little penguins to scan microchips planted under their skin.

"We can track where they've been, who they've been with, if they have any eggs or chicks and we know how old they are," Tiana Preston, who recently completed a PhD on the St Kilda colony, told Melbourne Weekly.

They also remove any fishing lines or rubbish that the penguins have been caught up in - an unfortunate experience for about 12 penguins a year. "That doesn't sound like a lot but it really isn't good for them," Ms Preston said.

The 2011 Melbourne Penguin Symposium, held on 6 March, celebrated the 25-year milestone and provided an opportunity for attendees to learn about the latest little penguin research, with speakers from Earthcare St Kilda, Phillip Island Nature Parks, Monash University and Deakin University sharing their findings. There were also presentations from local wildlife carer Mandy Hall and The Arctic Circle cartoonist Alex Hallatt.

Ms Hallat said on her blog that she had learned a lot more about penguins at the symposium. She also said that Earthcare St Kilda was looking for committed volunteers to look after the penguins on the breakwater, and highly recommended becoming a volunteer to those in the St Kilda area.

Sources
Earthcare and penguins by Alex Hallat, 7 March 2011, Arctic Circle Blog
History, St Kilda Penguins
St Kilda penguin protection a happy feat for carers by Rebecca Thistleton, 28 February 2011, Melbourne Weekly
St Kilda penguin study by Neil Blake, Earthcare St Kilda

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