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Penguin Awareness Day!

Penguin Awareness Day!

18th January 2021
By: Olivia - F&F

January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day! It’s a special day to celebrate our waddling, feathered friends — and to learn about some of the important threats that face one of our favourite species. Who doesn’t love penguins? If you’ve seen the movie Happy Feet or observed penguins in the wild — you’ll know that penguins are utterly adorable little birds. 

Most of us haven’t been lucky enough to interact with penguins up close — except, of course, our wonderful founder Julie — who used to work as a penguin guide in St Kilda before starting Flora & Fauna. 

A penguin guide? What on Earth is that? Well, it’s someone who takes care of penguins and makes sure they get to their shelter safely at night. Sounds like an amazing job to us! To get a better insight on what it's like to guide these adorable little friends to safety, we asked Julie! 

Interview with Julie 

Earthcare St Kilda Penguin GuideEarthcare St Kilda Penguin Guide

How did you become a penguin guide? 

I was living in Elwood in Melbourne and wanted to do more for animals and nature and knew about the penguins at St Kilda and wanted to help out. I’d seen a sign on the pier for Earthcare. I got in touch, had a chat, asked them if I could help, then had training and off we went!

What did you do as a penguin guide? 

Penguin Guides help educate people about the little penguins. At sunset, the penguins come in from the sea to nest for the night and feed their young. It’s a beautiful sight to behold but, like with anything amazing, humans can get in the way. A couple of evenings a week, I went to the pier to talk to people about the penguins and teach them more about them. I also spent a lot of my time asking people not to use flash photography which can disorientate the penguins and they end up heading back out to sea instead of coming in. 

I also got to help out with some research that involved assessing the penguin population by weighing and counting. You have to be really careful here because penguins are strong! 

Can anyone become a penguin guide? 

If you have a love for animals and are willing to commit the time, do get in touch with Earthcare. It was amazing to be part of this and I loved doing it.

Due to COVID, the pier might be off-limits but get in touch.

What did you take away from working with penguins? 

The need to educate so we can live harmoniously with animals and nature. We are utterly blessed to have such phenomenal nature on our doorstep and we need to respect it a lot more than we do. The need to be kind is more important now than ever and that must extend to the animals we share the planet with. 

What are the types of penguins that live around Australia?

Australian Little PenguinAustralian Little Penguin

Little Penguin 

Perhaps the most recognisable Aussie penguin species is the little penguin. They’re also sometimes called fairy penguins

And yes, they’re very little — no bigger than a bowling pin! 

These petite penguins are located mostly along the southern coast of Australia: Granite Island (SA), St Kilda Breakwater in Melbourne, Phillip Island (VIC), Montague Island (NSW), Manly Beach (NSW) and Penguin Island (WA). A little penguin can travel up to 20km in search of fish, cephalopods and crustaceans in a single day.

DID YOU KNOW?  Little penguins are the smallest penguin species in the world! 

King PenguinKing Penguin

King Penguin

King penguins are the second-largest penguin species, with extraordinary orange and black colouring. 

King penguins don’t reach mainland Australia, but they’re found on Macquarie Island (TAS), Heard Island and McDonald Islands (located south-west of Perth). 

DID YOU KNOW?  King penguins love lanternfish. In fact, they’ll dive up to 100 times a day in search of food.

Royal PenguinRoyal Penguin

Royal Penguin

Royal penguins have thick orange bills and a slicked-back yellow crest. 

Royal penguins are found on Macquarie Island and the Bishop and Clerk Islets. 

DID YOU KNOW?  These adorable, chubby penguins come ashore in October and lay two eggs — but only one egg will survive. 

Eastern Rockhopper PenguinEastern Rockhopper Penguin

Eastern Rockhopper Penguin

The Eastern rockhoppers are named after their tendency to leap across rocky terrain — making them one of the most athletic penguin species on land. 

Eastern rockhoppers are found on Macquarie Island (TAS), Heard Island and McDonald Islands (located south-west of Perth). 

DID YOU KNOW?  Unfortunately, eastern rockhopper penguins have suffered a major decline in population. Changes in ocean productivity mean less available food for the penguins, which is exacerbated by climate change. Other penguin species found to the South of Australia are Gentoo penguins, Macaroni penguins, Adélie penguins, and Emperor penguins. 

What are the main threats to penguin species?

All penguin species around the world are feeling the impacts of human behaviour — in fact, as a group, penguins are one of the two most threatened seabird species in the world.

Peguins on melting ice Peguins on melting ice

Climate Change 

According to a WWF report, Tracking Antarcticathe greatest immediate threat to the Antarctic penguins is changes to sea-ice, which is exacerbated by climate change. 

A major loss in sea-ice has impacted the number of Adélie penguins living in the West Antarctic Peninsula; over the next 40 years, we may lose a third of the population due to the impacts of climate change on their habitat and food supply.  

The famous Emperor penguin is at risk, too. If changes to sea-ice continue at this rate, we’re likely to see a continent-wide decline and near extinction of the species by the end of the century. 

Commercial Fishing & Overfishing

Penguin species can face starvation if fish and krill stocks are depleted too quickly. If this happens, parent penguins must travel further searching for food, which leaves their young at risk of malnutrition. 

When commercial fisheries are operating in the same feeding areas as penguins, there’s also the risk of becoming entangled in fishing nets, leading to drowning or major injuries. 

Oil Spills

Oil spills can wreak devastation upon penguin species and their habitats. Even a small amount of oil can damage their waterproof feathers, and often, penguins will preen excessively to get rid of the oil — which means that the penguins are ingesting harmful toxins.

Invasive Species

Who would’ve thought that penguin species are impacted by dogs, cats, rabbits and foxes? 

Introduced predators can devastate penguin habitats and overrun nesting colonies. Even if these animals don’t harm the penguins or their eggs, they can damage the surrounding habitat and make it unsuitable for penguins. 

How can I celebrate Penguin Awareness Day?

Penguins are one of the most recognisable, adorable animals on Earth. Many people aren’t aware of just how threatened they are!

This is why Penguin Awareness Day is so important. If more people know about the threats that penguins face — climate change, commercial fishing, oil spills and invasive species — we can work together to solve these problems. 

If you can’t see penguins locally, we recommend watching a documentary about penguins — or even Happy Feet!

Consider donating to The Global Penguin Society, the Penguin Foundation — or you could adopt a penguin through WFF!  

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