Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fairy penguin stops in at Fraser Island

This little visitor turned up on a Fraser Island beach on July 21.
This little visitor turned up on a Fraser Island beach on July 21.

23 July, 2013
Fraser Island receives thousands of visitors every year who have migrated north to enjoy the warmer weather without much fuss, but one unexpected tourist has caused quite a stir on the Fraser Coast - a fairy penguin who was a long, long way from home.

The bird came ashore on July 21 on the eastern beach of Fraser Island, just north of the Maheno shipwreck.
It came onto the beach, had a look around, then returned to the water. Cathy Whitaker works on Fraser Island and was able to snap a few photos of the rare occurrence.

"It was very bizarre to see a penguin this far north, must have got its bearings wrong," Cathy said.
"We were driving along the beach, and the little penguin was just coming in. He looked quite well; he was quite plump and looked a little tired."
Cathy says the little penguin just sat on the edge of the water for a while before returning to the surf.
"He would have been there for about six to seven minutes," she said.

"He wasn't there for very long, he preened himself for a little while and then he just popped back in the water."
Dr Peter Dann is research manager for Phillip Island Nature Parks and works with fairy penguins. Dr Dann says the penguin coming this far north is very unusual.

"It's not the first time it's happened. I know of records around Coolangatta and around Moreton Bay but this is the most northern one I've ever heard of," he said.
"It's a long way north, and clearly out of its usual stomping ground. The nearest breeding penguins to Fraser Island would be somewhere around Port Stephens in New South Wales."

That it came ashore on Fraser Island is made even more interesting by the fact fairy penguins don't like warm water.
"They don't particularly like warm water unlike the rest of us, so it's also making some strange decisions based on that," Dr Dann said.

By looking at the photo of the southern visitor, you could agree with Cathy in that the penguin looks a little plump. Dr Dann says it is more likely a bit waterlogged.
"First of all I think it might be a girl," Dr Dann said, "You can actually tell penguins apart from their bills whether they're boys or girls, so I think it's a she.

"She looks exhausted though... her flippers, one of them is actually touching the ground which is a sign of being very tired, and also she's a little bit waterlogged.
"She hasn't quite got the torpedo shape that you normally see in a penguin that comes out of water. So what looks like a fat belly is actually a lot of water in her plumage."

"She certainly doesn't look like she's emaciated but she looks like she's come a long way."


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