King Penguin Colony

January 20, 2012 by staff 

King Penguin Colony, The recent census of penguin numbers in Kingscote shows a sharp decline but researchers cannot say it is a trend. “We have only five years of data, which is considered to be long enough to set a baseline but we need at least another year to show a trend,” Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board officer Martine Kinloch said.

The number of active penguin burrows identified in the Kingscote area – from Brownlow to Reeves Point – has fallen from 353 in October, 2010, to 190 in October, 2011.

Ms Kinloch said there were always variables. There had been heavier vegetation this year which had impacted on finding burrows and a new group from Conservation Volunteers had been involved for the first time. She said investigations in the week following the census had shown increased activity.

“The numbers have gone down but we can’t see a real trend yet. We know we have had mortalities, cat predation and human disturbances,” Ms Kinloch said.

She said counts were held for the first time in the Penneshaw area, courtesy of a grant obtained by the Friend of Dudley Peninsula Parks, and at Emu Bay.

The Penneshaw count showed that while the numbers in the Penneshaw penguin centre area are low, there are thriving colonies at Antechamber Bay and Redhouse Bay. Emu Bay, north and west of the jetty, also showed good colonies.

Kingscote Penguin Centre operator John Ayliffe said the census indicated the extent of seal predation in Kingscote.

“It’s really interesting that the NZ fur seals do not eat penguins in NZ. In Australia it is becoming increasingly common and may indicate a food shortage for the seals. It may indicate a potential collapse of the marine ecosystem,” Mr Ayliffe said. “No Take zones in the proposed marine Parks will not protect the fish stocks from hungry seals.”

Ms Kinloch said it was not easy to say NZ fur seals were responsible for the decline.

“At Cape Gantheaume, for example, we have seal and penguin colonies with no real problem,” she said.

Department for Natural Resources regional manager Bill Haddrill said there were no consistent trends across the colonies.

“We can’t say seals are responsible. They are very visible so people put two and two together but there are a raft of natural and human activities that could be affecting numbers,” Mr Haddrill said.

He said the KINRM board and the Adelaide Hills NRM board, which had responsibility for the Granite Island penguin colony near Victor Harbor, were working together on research and trends across the region.

“Seals are part of the natural process. They are transient and highly intelligent animals and we have three places where we have created artificially high numbers of penguins because of human assistance.

“In any case, all advice we have is that it is a waste of time to try to control seal numbers; they are a large, transient and intelligent population.

“This is not really a conservation issue. It is an economic-tourism discussion about the impact on a wildlife experience over which we have no control,” Mr Haddrill said.

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