The Little Penguins of Phillip Island come ashore each night at Summerland Beach. Now it’s April, and at this time of year the Little Penguins molt. You might say losing their feathers as new ones are growing. They can’t swim when losing their feathers, so most of the penguins stay in their burrows and little wooden boxes that have been built for them.
The Little Penguins were once called Fairy Penguins, but they are now officially named Little Penguins. They are the smallest species of penguins, weighing about one kilogram, with males weighing a bit more and being 12 inches (33 cm) tall. Penguins breed in colonies along the coast of Australia and New Zealand.
In Victoria, Phillip Island has an estimated 32,000 breeding adults. These amazing animals travel great distances in groups out to sea and might stay for a day or weeks out at sea. They dive for food and then swim back to shore to rest each night. Penguins can also sleep on the water out at sea if they need to. The Little Penguins stay at Phillip Island to breed, raise their chicks, and to molt.
No photos are to be taken of the penguins. It is dark when they arrive and the camera flash startles the penguins so much they won’t find their way back to their home.
Excited, I’m at the Penguin Parade Nature Park with a crowd of people, and supervisors are talking to us about the penguins. Watching each wave roll in and ignoring the cold wind, never have I seen penguins in their natural habitat.
As I waited, many waves came in before dark, and now the penguins were like film stars to me. The stars arrived now it was dark, as a Little Penguin’s head appeared bobbing up in the waves.
This penguin waited in the waves, then more appeared and they all rode with the waves into the shore. Oh no, the waves lined them up with the seagulls that stood eyeing them off in the hope of some little scraps of food. The penguins swam away and moved with the waves into shore a little distance from trouble.
A bit wobbly, they rose onto their feet when the seagulls took a few steps toward the penguins. One brave penguin put it’s beak down like a sword and ran toward the seagulls, and the birds flew away. The rest of the penguins hurried across the sand in their waddle-like manner to the safety of the rocks and the bushes.
The brave penguin was washed back into the sea and then re-emerged. The penguins don’t cross the beach by themselves, and this one waited for others to come. Up popped more Little Penguins’ heads from the waves and now with safety in numbers, they were ready to move. Waddling together across the sand, they helped each other move quickly, nudging ones that fell behind to the front. Together, they climbed the rocks, moving to the safety of their burrows or boxes.
It was a special moment watching the Little Penguins work together for survival.