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The March Of The Little Penguins

August 16, 2014 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

unnamed (19)As dusk descends over Summerland beach on Phillip Island in Victoria elite little penguin frontline troops are designated to do early reconnaissance. Tiny heads appear from the depths of the ocean and vigilant eyes dart in all directions to see if their main antagonists – foxes, dogs and predatory birds – are lurking in the shadows. Communication is then relayed to the rest of the submerged army as they prepare to land – but not before one final inspection to ensure the killers are definitely nowhere to be seen. unnamed (15) The all-safe signal is then given and the first wave of little penguins emerge from the ocean and start the long and tedious march to the safety of their hillside burrows in the sand dunes. Under the cover of semi-darkness they march out in groups of five or 10, some in packs of 20 and some on their own, waddling, resting, observing, then comically and stoically, they rev themselves up and they’re off again. For creatures that are so graceful, acrobatic and fast in the ocean, it certainly doesn’t transform once they’re on land as they toil awkwardly as they shuffle up the beach towards home. Little penguins are only 33cms tall and each day they dive up to 1400 times and swim about 100 kms for food. This ensures they arrive home with bellies full of fish and squid (hence the waddle), which they then regurgitate and feed the chicks waiting in the hillside burrows. unnamed (16)To witness one of wildlife’s most fascinating spectacle I’m sitting in a prime position along with hundreds of men, women and children on a crowded viewing platform. Boardwalks that go all the way from the beach to the car parks are also filled to capacity offering prime positions to watch one of nature’s most famous penguin parades. With us are professional rangers who work for the Phillip Island Penguin Authority and they explain everything that we are witnessing. Of the 32,000 little penguins that live in the waters around Phillip Island, 4000 have their burrows close to Summerland beach. The rangers’ statistics are so precise that they even know the penguins’ divorce rate. We are told they do not mate for life. If breeding success is minimal, they will look for a new mate. The annual divorce rate for little penguins has been recorded between18 and 50 per cent. Our penguin tour started from Federation Square in Melbourne at 1.15pm where we were picked up by an AAT Kings coach for the 90-minute trip tounnamed (17) Phillip Island (which is connected to the mainland by a bridge). On the way we visited the Maru Koala & Animal Park, home to Tasmanian devils, koalas, dingoes, wallabies, wombats, alpacas, various talkative cockatoos and a few inquisitive emus. A highlight for many on our bus was the sheep-shearing exhibition – except for the pretty young girl who got a clump of smelly, matted wool accidently and amusingly thrown at her head during the show. Before coming to Phillip Island to see the penguin parade, in my mind, the island was famous only for the motorcycle grand prix held there each year. unnamed (18)That’s all changed now. With its rugged coastline, beaches and the outcrops of rocks – especially around the seal colony – it is nothing short of spectacular. On arrival at the island we are given a tour while the sun is shining and the air is crisp. We stop at the visitor’s centre, where the views from the maze of boardwalks are remarkable. From here, if you are lucky, you will get to see young penguin chicks sitting in their burrows waiting for food that mum or dad will deliver later in the evening. At about 6.30pm, after dinner in town, we make our way to the viewing platform to await the first of Phillip Island’s famous troops as they poke their little heads out of the water. And then the beach ‘invasion’ begins … TIP No matter where you sit initially eventually you will get to see the little penguins up close and personal along the boardwalks as they waddle up home to their burrows.  HOW TO GET THERE:  AAT Kings Bus Tour  $139 adult $50 child  Departs Daily 1.15pm from Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Russell Street Returns 9.30pm approximately 1300 22 8546 www.aatkings.com.au Written by : Daniel Resnik

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