August 28, 2009
WARMER waters plus a feast of fast, fishy food equals frisky little penguins, according to experts at Phillip Island, who are reporting an early start to the breeding season.
Penguin ecologist Peter Dann said although the breeding season typically started in spring and early summer, about 10 per cent of the island's burrows - home to the 26,000-strong penguin colony - already had eggs in them.
Another dozen pairs already have chicks in their burrows, he said.
And although the penguins are getting frisky earlier this year, it's not always with their breeding partner from last year.
Dr Dann said that contrary to popular understanding the little penguin was less than faithful and more inclined to mix up their matches.
Dr Dann said the annual ''divorce rate'' was up to 20 per cent and according to paternity studies ''extramarital affairs'' among penguins rated as high as 10 per cent of couples.
He said although it was not clear exactly what had set the penguins off early, warm waters led to more plankton and small fish such as anchovies, warehou and red cod for the penguins to feast on.
''If global warming is going to warm up Bass Strait, then in a short to medium term, that's going to be good news for penguins,'' he said.