Some 5219 little penguins swum into shore at Phillip Island and waddled up the beach to their burrows in just one hour on Tuesday, May 3, marking the highest number recorded there since 1968.
The record-breaking event came as a surprise, with the largest numbers of penguin crossings usually occurring during the peak of breeding season in November and December.
“We couldn’t believe our eyes when more than 5000 penguins came out of the water in less than an hour,” Phillip Island Nature Parks’ scientist Paula Wasiak said.
“It’s been a penguin party night after night, which is unusual for this time of year, let alone in record numbers like we are seeing now.”
Between 3000 and 5000 penguins came in every other night last week, with as many as 4500 counted on one week the night prior.
The average number of penguins who burrowed at the beach each night last year ranged from around 700 in July to 2300 in November.
Wasiak said it seemed that an abundance of food close to shore was allowing the penguins to gear up for the biggest Autumn breeding attempt ever seen.
“While penguins usually breed during spring and summer, older, more experienced birds are known to take advantage of a secondary peak in marine productivity in autumn, which can result in an increase in colony attendance and breeding behaviour.”
She said work to improve the dune structure and restore the habitat following erosion at the beach had also likely contributed to the increase in penguins visiting.
Phillip Island’s colony of about 40,000 little penguins is the largest in the world.
Visitors pack stands by the beach to watch the penguins arrive each night, with the parades have been booked out every night during the Easter school holidays.