Everything you need to know about Granite Island’s little penguins

Everything you need to know about Granite Island’s little penguins

For a week­end with a dif­fer­ence, head to Gran­ite Island for some lit­tle pen­guin spot­ting. Here’s all the details.

Look­ing for a fam­i­ly-friend­ly activ­i­ty for the week­end? Look no fur­ther than Gran­ite Island, off the coast of Vic­tor Har­bor on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula.

Not only can you walk around the island and take in the sights and sounds of Gran­ite Island Recre­ation Park, but if you’re into wildlife, you’ll be pleased to know the island is home to one of the state’s most adorable birds – the lit­tle penguin.

While in years gone by the num­ber of wild lit­tle pen­guins liv­ing off Gran­ite Island had dropped, after suc­cess­ful man­age­ment of their preda­tors and reveg­e­ta­tion of their habi­tat, they are mak­ing a come­back, albeit a slow one.

Did you know?

Before you head off, brush up on your knowl­edge of these adorable lit­tle birds in tuxe­dos. Here are 8 fun facts:

  • The lit­tle pen­guin is small­est species of pen­guin in the world, only just big­ger than your aver­age school ruler (33 cm tall) and weigh­ing a tiny 1 kg.
  • Lit­tle pen­guins are found only in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.
  • The lit­tle pen­guin is the only pen­guin to breed in Aus­tralia. Breed­ing sea­son is around November.
  • The aver­age lifes­pan of a lit­tle pen­guin is about sev­en years.
  • Lit­tle pen­guins con­sume about their body weight in fish every day.
  • There are about 10,000 feath­ers on a lit­tle pen­guin, plen­ty of insu­la­tion to keep them warm in the cold waters.
  • Lit­tle pen­guins sleep for only about four min­utes at a time, either stand­ing up or lying down.
  • Gran­ite Island’s lit­tle pen­guins usu­al­ly feed on fish with­in 15 km of the island, how­ev­er they have been known to ven­ture up to 200 km away.

How lit­tle pen­guins are being protected

Before Euro­peans arrived, lit­tle pen­guins had few preda­tors. How­ev­er, intro­duced fox­es and rats, as well as domes­tic cats and dogs, soon became a sig­nif­i­cant threat to coastal populations.

The Gran­ite Island pen­guin pop­u­la­tion expe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant declines from 2000 through until 2012. Since that time the pop­u­la­tion has been rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble, albeit at fair­ly small numbers. 

Breed­ing rates on Gran­ite Island have been par­tic­u­lar­ly high since 2007, despite the low pop­u­la­tion num­ber. This is due to the inten­sive rat bait­ing under­tak­en by park rangers that pre­vents chicks being attacked by rats.

As is the case with most wild pop­u­la­tions, juve­nile sur­vival is low as young pen­guins learn to hunt for food and avoid predators.

Near­by West Island has recent­ly seen a small num­ber of pen­guins re-estab­lish on the island after an absence of more than 10 years.

This year, two fox­es were able to get onto the island and kill nine birds. One of the fox­es took a bait that rangers had installed. The oth­er is believed to have left the island.

An improved fox gate has now been installed on the cause­way to pre­vent fox­es get­ting access to the island and its pen­guins, and addi­tion­al elec­tron­ic fox deter­rents and bait­ing are being used when necessary.

Com­mu­ni­ty groups also play an impor­tant part in mon­i­tor­ing the local pop­u­la­tion and alert­ing the depart­ment to devel­op­ing threats.

To pro­tect the pop­u­la­tion, a Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice ranger is ded­i­cat­ed to main­tain­ing Gran­ite Island. Their role is to main­tain walk­ing paths, weed con­trol, under­take reveg­e­ta­tion plant­i­ngs to cre­ate suit­able pen­guin habi­tat, con­struct and mon­i­tor pen­guin bur­rows, and main­tain fencing.

The ranger also mon­i­tors wildlife cam­eras on the island that keep an eye on the pen­guins and signs of any foxes.

The Depart­ment for Envi­ron­ment and Water works close­ly with researchers from Flinders Uni­ver­si­ty to mon­i­tor the pen­guin pop­u­la­tions at sev­er­al loca­tions across the state, includ­ing Gran­ite Island with an annu­al check of all bur­rows for activity.

For the safe­ty of lit­tle pen­guins, dogs, cats and oth­er exot­ic species are not allowed on the island.

Best time to visit

Lit­tle pen­guins gen­er­al­ly spend the day out in the ocean and the night in their nests, so the best time to see them is at dusk when they return from their adven­tures out at sea to have a snooze in their burrows.

Access to the island at dusk is only avail­able through a guid­ed tour. Vis­it the Encounter Vic­tor Har­bor web­site for tour availability.

Top tip: When vis­it­ing the pen­guins be sure to keep your dis­tance from them and their bur­rows – lit­tle pen­guins are sen­si­tive souls, even the slight­est change of scent to their sur­round­ings has been known to change the way they behave and cause them to aban­don their bur­rows and breed­ing activ­i­ties entirely.

Love South Australia’s wildlife? You might be inter­est­ed to learn the dif­fer­ence between our koalas and those in oth­er states, or learn some inter­est­ing facts about the hum­ble wom­bat.

(Main image cour­tesy ofJJ Har­ri­son in line with Cre­ative Com­mons licensing)

This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in Novem­ber 2018 and has been updat­ed with new information.

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living