Phillip Island Beach in Victoria, Australia is home to the world’s largest colony of Little Penguins. Throughout the year, visitors to the beach have the privilege of watching the Little Penguins return to shore in the evening. This tradition has given spectators an incredible sneak peek into the lives of Phillip Island’s penguin population. Thanks to this special privilege, it has been reported that the so-called “penguin parade” has just achieved record-smashing numbers.
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A Nightly Tradition
The “penguin parade” was first observed by human guests in the 1920s when residents of Phillip Island began offering nighttime tours to eager tourists. The incredible sight of the penguin colony’s nightly return to shore quickly became a beloved tradition around which conservation, research, and education campaigns have formed.
The Phillip Island colony is the world’s largest Little Penguin colony with over 40,000 individual birds. On a nightly basis, though, it is common for as few as just 700 birds to attend the parade.
In previous years, the nightly penguin parade featured as many as 2300 individuals which could be counted by observers. In the past few weeks that record was broken as over 4500 penguins made their way onto Phillip Island Beach’s sandy shores. Then, just days later, an unprecedented quantity of penguins swarmed the beach, destroying the newly established record. Over 5200 Little Penguins were counted during a period of only fifty minutes. This is the highest attendance of any “penguin parade” on this beach since 1968.
Remarkably, the high quantity of penguin visitors does not seem to be a total fluke, as higher than usual numbers continue to be recorded night after night.
More incredible still is the fact that this is not even the correct season in which one would expect such a surge in penguin numbers. Little Penguins typically breed in spring and summer, which begin around September and December respectively in Australia.
What’s Different This Year?
It is believed that the surge in penguin numbers may be a result of the enterprising little birds taking advantage of abundant food and preparing for an autumn breeding attempt.
It is also believed that the incredible quantity of penguins can be attributed to the success of conservation efforts on Phillip Island. Beginning in the 1980s, a plan of protection was put in place to safeguard and preserve the Little Penguin population. One major aspect of this plan was the eradication of predatory foxes who could devastate penguin population. Foxes are not native to Australia and pose a serious risk to native fauna. In 2011, Phillip Island reported its second year in a row with zero penguins killed by foxes. It is possible that this unexpected surge in the penguin parade is the long-awaited fruit of a decades long conservation project.
The surge in penguins, especially due to the fact that they are regularly returning to their burrows on the beach, rather than spending their nights at sea, indicates a massive breeding attempt. It is hopeful, then, that Phillip Island Beach will continue to see record-breaking penguin parades as populations grow and flourish.