Justine Shaw, Mary-Anne Lea and Paloma Corvalan from the science program of Homeward Bound in Antarctica. Picture: OLI SANSOM.
Justine Shaw, Mary-Anne Lea and Paloma Corvalan from the science program of Homeward Bound in Antarctica. Picture: OLI SANSOM.

Remarkable swim patterns of Hobart’s penguins

THE first ever study into the sea adventures of Tasmania's little penguins has revealed they share a practice familiar to many Tasmanians: a daily commute between work and hungry mouths at home.

IMAS and CSIRO researchers fitted 29 little penguins with GPS trackers to see what they get up to when at sea.

LOCALS FEAR FOR PENGUINS AFTER DOG PLAN

CALL FOR ACTION TO CURB PENGUIN DEATHS

The study found the penguins all stayed out for less than 24 hours - although the distances they travelled all varied depending on their home base.

The focus penguins were from three different colonies south of Hobart: near Kingston, on Bruny and Wedge islands.

 

Little penguins in a nest in Hobart. Picture: FERNANDO ARCE
Little penguins in a nest in Hobart. Picture: FERNANDO ARCE

 

IMAS Associate Professor Mary-Anne Lea said the little penguins would head out in the morning, spend the day foraging and then return to feed their chicks.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH CHARMING LOCALS AT BICHENO

"They're daily commuters," Assoc Prof Lea said.

"They don't travel long distances because they can only get to a certain point before they need to turn around and come back again."

Their range was generally within 30 to 50km of their breeding grounds. The greatest maximum distance was by a Bruny penguin that travelled 71km, while the shortest was a Kingston penguin who covered 25km.

The study was the first to investigate the at-sea habits of the vulnerable species, which aims to shed light on how they adapt to subtle changes in environmental conditions to find food.

The tracks from GPS tagged little penguins living and feeding in the Derwent Estuary and Storm Bay.
The tracks from GPS tagged little penguins living and feeding in the Derwent Estuary and Storm Bay.

The trackers revealed the birds remain relatively close to the coast, exhibit a high level of variability between colonies while accessing a wide variety of sites, and are finely attuned to environmental influences such as water depth, salinity and temperature.

The study's lead author, former IMAS Honours student Lachlan Phillips, said conditions in Storm Bay were highly variable and affected by a wide range of factors, including the East Australian Current, cold sub-Antarctic waters in winter, and freshwater from the Derwent and Huon rivers.

"Previous studies have looked at how environmental conditions influence marine predator behaviour on a broad scale but little is known about the impact of localised factors, such as those in complex environments like Storm Bay."

The GPS devices recorded data at a one to two-kilometre resolution every hour, before being removed after 24-hours.

Mr Phillips said penguins from the three sites behaved quite differently while foraging and their behaviour was influenced by their environment.

Assoc Prof Lea said getting a more complete understanding of penguin activity and behaviour around Tasmania would require longer-term research to study colonies across the State.



Woman hides drugs in Mama Bear’s room

premium_icon Woman hides drugs in Mama Bear’s room

THE Supreme Court in Bundaberg has heard the great lengths a woman went to in...

Revealed: The four behind father’s killing

premium_icon Revealed: The four behind father’s killing

'I’ll go and see what this strange looking man wants'

Paradise Dam Debacle: MP airs flooding concerns

premium_icon Paradise Dam Debacle: MP airs flooding concerns

BUNDABERG MP David Batt is concerned lowering the spillway at Paradise Dam will not...