If you’ve been following the blog you may have guessed that Chris and I flip over penguins, pun intended. A few years back we saw a news story about a 109-year-old man knitting sweaters for penguins that had fallen victim to an oil spill. The picture of the penguins in their sweaters left an indelible impression.
-Examples of the sweaters on some extremely well behaved “model” penguins-
It turns out the penguins were residents of Phillip Island, Australia. We knew if we ever made it Down Under we’d be paying these little guys a visit. Little Penguin is the actual name of this species of penguin that measure only about a foot high. They are the smallest of seventeen species of penguins and the only ones in the world that have blue and white feathers.
The penguins of Phillip Island have been stealing hearts since the 1920’s when tourists first visited the nightly penguin parade. The penguins go fishing during the day where they make over 700 dives and swim between 9 and 31 miles. When the sun goes down they come back ashore to the protection of their man-made burrows for the evening. Visitors can see almost 2,000 penguins come ashore each night!
The island is an easy 90-minute drive from Melbourne and attracted over 600,000 visitors last year. Visitors can buy tickets for one of three viewing areas with tickets ranging from $25.10 to $60 AUD (~$19-$45 USD). General Viewing is a beachfront viewing stand and has access to the boardwalk to get closer to the penguins as make way to their burrows. Penguins Plus is tiered seating right next to where the penguins come ashore. Directly under that is Underground Viewing, which puts you at ground level to watch the penguins waddle past.
-Viewing platform for the parade-
We rented a car in Melbourne and drove out to Phillip Island, which is known for its rich wildlife and many beaches. We spent the day at the Koala Conservation Center spotting koalas perched high in the tree branches. At 4pm we made our way over to the World Famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade. The penguins were estimated to come ashore at 5:30pm. To our surprise, the lot was already beginning to fill.
We spent time admiring the penguin knick-knacks in the gift shop and looking at the informational displays. Then we watched a five-minute film about the penguins and instructions for viewing, which included a strict no camera or filming policy since their eyes are sensitive to light.
We should have invested in a gift shop poncho but we didn’t see the rain coming until we walked outside onto the boardwalk. Once outside, we were more concerned about getting an optimal viewing spot than getting wet.
At 5:25pm we spotted a dark mass of movement just off the rocky coast, the penguins were home! A Cape Barren Goose let out a honk just up the hillside, he had spotted them too.
Smiles came over the faces of the crowd as we watched the tiny creatures carefully traverse the jagged rocks. The first platoon ashore split into two factions, one headed uphill and the other headed around the backside of the boardwalk.
The hill climbers found the path that had been carved into the mountain by the daily commute of hundreds of tiny webbed feet. The penguins stopped in their tracks when they spotted two massive geese standing in the path. Quickly, they retreated several feet to regroup and strategize and then took to the grass on the right side of the geese.
-“LET’S GO THIS WAY GUYS!”-
Back at the shore the next group, or waddle, of penguins were waiting to make their move. Their tiny bodies showed no objection to the pelting rain. One bravely marched forward and the rest followed suit. Several hundred of them came ashore group by group and traversed down well-trodden paths to their burrows. Once they made it to the safety of their burrow we could hear them chattering away.
We spotted a few slick white bellies under bushes in the distance and some inquisitive penguins peaking at the spectators in the underground viewing area. One was stationed outside one of the burrows closest to shore, looking as though he was waiting for a mate.
-“Hmmm…Where’s my chick?”-
As the rain grew heavier the crowd quickly thinned. Some moved down the boardwalk under covering, others back to the warmth and protection of the visitor center. Our rain resistant windbreakers had started to fail us, jeans clung to our legs and my purse was saturated inside and out. Sadly, it was time we headed back as well.
We followed along the boardwalk with the path of penguins and watched them confidently walk to their shelters. Some even came all the way up to the visitor center area where they had a hole in the fence and crossing guards ready to stop the line of spectators should the penguins make a break to the other side.
So what’s with the sweaters?
In the event of an oil spill, the Wildlife Clinic at Philip Island Nature Parks would dress the penguin in a sweater to minimize the amount of oil the penguins ingest by preening themselves. Luckily, our little friends weren’t in this predicament but we did see some plush penguins in sweaters in the gift shop that we were just $24.95 AUD (~$19 USD). The proceeds are used to fund education programs and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation at Phillip Island Nature Parks Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
As much as we wanted to squeeze one of these softies in our suitcases we couldn’t spare the room. Luckily I was able to still get one stateside by donating to the Penguin Foundation. Find out how to Adopt a Penguin or make a donation of your own here.