Penguin numbers continue to rise

HOPEFUL: Victor Harbor man Stephen Hedges is a local penguin monitor for Flinders University and penguin tour guide for Oceanic Victor. Photo: Dani Brown.
HOPEFUL: Victor Harbor man Stephen Hedges is a local penguin monitor for Flinders University and penguin tour guide for Oceanic Victor. Photo: Dani Brown.

The latest little penguin census has revealed more of the precious creatures are on Granite Island compared to last year – but the people helping them have concerns for their safety.

Victor Harbor man Stephen Hedges is a local penguin monitor for Flinders University and penguin tour guide for Oceanic Victor, and said through daily research the team has discovered 44 birds – that’s compared to 28 last year. The year before that there was only 23.

“This season approximately 10 chicks have grown up and said goodbye,” he said.

But he said this year, they were having what he called a double season; that is, two sets of three months where eggs are being laid and hatched.

“We’ve had two dry winters, it’s been cold and sunny. The boys set the burrow up for spring, and if they we have a sunny winter, the boys might think it’s spring,” Mr Hedges said.

Interest in the little penguins is as strong as ever among visitors, but he said hardly any locals take part in the tours or know much about the birds in general.

“The sad thing is, last night I had two English people and their child, five South Koreans, two Germans, two Danes – but not one Aussie,” Mr Hedges said.

“One of the best ways to learn about the penguins is to do a tour.”

He urged people, especially those who frequent the island, to be aware of the dangers facing the little penguins’ future.

He said the main threats facing them were: white lights from phones and torches, as the light blinds them for days and they can’t catch fish or are caught by predators; people wandering from the tracks and making noises; litter on the island and in the water; and dogs, which aren’t allowed on the island and owners can be fined for breaking the rule.

“We’re setting up cameras to observe the birds with Oceanic, with Flinders Uni providing the cameras,” he said.

“The number of disturbances have increased and the cameras are picking that up, too.”

People often come across dead penguins on the beach, and he said people should report it to the local Department of Environment and Water (DEW) office on 8552 0300 or at 3 Eyre Terrace, Victor Harbor.

The SA Museum can do an autopsy on the bird and find out the cause of death and any influences the environment might have on them.