If you didn’t know already, a colony of fairy penguins can be found at St Kilda’s breakwater every night, all year round. They’re found at the very end of the pier, past the yellow kiosk.
As dusk descends the penguins climb up onto the rocks of the breakwater. They hop from rock to rock and declare their mating calls. They catch drips of water from the rocks to have a drink and gather saltbush to build their nests.
You can differentiate between the penguins as the girls have long thin beaks and the males are bigger in size. They can live over 20 years, the oldest ones there are currently two males aged 18 and a female at 21 years old.
Susie Parker has been volunteering for Earthcare St Kilda, a penguin research group, for 18 years.
“This area is where they breed. This is the wintertime, so they’re still in the early stages of nest building which comes around late July-August, but now they partner up. Each night they’ll come in and either feed their babies or sit on their eggs for four weeks and then the eggs will hatch and they have ‘Fluffies’ (little babies). The babies will be here in the next 2-3 weeks”.
“For 12 weeks they diligently catch fish; squid, anchovies, this area in particular has baby snapper so a lot of high quality fish in the area. They come back and do the beak to beak regurgitation feed, so it’s disgusting. After 13 weeks they stop feeding them so the babies get a bit of tough love and they have to learn to swim to get their own fish”, Susie explained.
For many, seeing the penguins at St Kilda could save them a road trip. Susie Parker compared the penguins in St Kilda to Phillip Island.
“There’s not many predators here, unlike Phillip Island, which has the habitat destruction of houses and introducing dogs and cats. Our parents used to drag us down four hours’ drive to see the same ones, we just could have come here. These penguins have smaller flippers, so they’re not a bloodline, they didn’t come from there, and the chances are they came from Bass Strait. The main problem out here is a little bit of mercury and plastic that they get entangled with”.
The best time to see these little guys is half an hour after sundown, you can look up sunset and sunrise times here. At this time of year, until July, the penguins are at sea finding food before they come back to breed.
American exchange student, Copeland McCarter, said she was looking forward to seeing the penguins.
“I’m from the U.S and I’m on an exchange program in New Zealand. So were visiting Australia for 6 days and this was the number one thing to do”.
Visitors who come to see the penguins are mainly backpackers, not many are locals.
The area isn’t a national park or zoo, but the penguins are protected by Earthcare Research Group.
“[The penguins] get microchipped by our research team so we know where they come from, we currently have about 1500. This area was built for sailing in 1956 and from 1972 onwards they noticed the penguins were coming back here”, Susie said.
The Earthcare Research Group studies the penguins at St Kilda two times a month. They have been studying their health, population, breeding and diet for more than 25 years.
Do’s and Don’ts when visiting the penguins:
- Save money by going to St Kilda to see penguins for free, rather than Phillip Island which costs $26.20.
- Take advantage of its proximity to the CBD, which can take as little as 20 minutes on public transport.
- Ask a volunteer Penguin Guide any questions you have and listen to their fun facts.
- You can’t take photos with the flash on!
- Cover your torch with red cellophane, penguins can’t see the colour red
- Climb on the rocks to get a better photo, as tempting as it is.
You can donate to support the Earthcare Research Group: