Plight of the Penguins
Jun 22, 2022 6:30 PM
Dr Erin Clitheroe
Plight of the Penguins

Dr Erin Clitheroe, an honorary research fellow in the Department of Environmental and Conservation Sciences at Murdoch University, has coordinated fortnightly monitoring of nests on Penguin Island since 2010. She says it is difficult to gain an exact figure as population surveys are taken during the peak of the nesting season, but not all birds breed every year and non-nesting birds and juveniles are not counted.


“The really important thing here is not so much the actual number of birds, but the decline,” Clitheroe says.

“That’s the one thing we can be certain about. Even though there’s some uncertainty about the actual number of little penguins, the decline is real.”

A marine heatwave that affected the WA coast between January and April this year decimated fish supplies in the penguins’ usual foraging areas around Comet Bay. Most of the birds did not achieve the body condition required to breed, with only one or two breeding successfully. Clitheroe says the nesting season was a “complete failure”.  

“This year we’ve had probably one of the poorest breeding seasons that I’ve ever seen,” she says.

Little penguins need to eat about a quarter of their body weight each day, and low fish numbers due to the marine heatwave mean they must travel further to find enough food. Many are becoming so exhausted in the process that they cannot swim any further and are forced onto the mainland to rest, where some succumb to their fatigue.