Research

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Research is a vital step in understanding Phillip Island's biodiversity and how we can best enhance and protect it. The Penguin Foundation funds important scientific research projects that study Phillip Island's native wildlife, including little penguins and is conducted by world-renowned scientists, field officers and environment rangers at Phillip Island Nature Parks.

Current research projects include:


Past research projects:

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Current Projects

Oiled wildlife cleaning technology

 We are proud to help fund the development of exciting new technology set to revolutionise the way in which oiled wildlife are cleaned.

The technology, dubbed the ‘Oil Spill Wand’, works when iron powder is applied to an oiled animal and binds with the oil. A magnetic wand is then waved over the animal, drawing up the metallic powder and oil. Traditional oil spill cleaning methods rely on hot water and detergent, and wildlife are easily stressed while scrubbed clean or transported and housed in special facilities.

The technology is part of a joint research and development program being conducted by researchers at the Penguin Foundation and Professor John Orbell at Victoria University. The project has also been funded by Google Australia, receiving $250,000 as a finalist in the 2014 Google Impact Challenge and Phillip Island Nature Parks.

“The value in this technology is how it allows a quick clean in the field so the more toxic or corrosive components can be removed from the wildlife as quickly as possible,” Professor Orbell said. “This greatly enhances the animal’s survival chances after their release.”

Oil spills have a devastating effect on the environment but with the funding the team aim to further develop the Oil Spill Wand and dramatically reduce the impact oil spills have on wildlife, including penguins, otters and even turtles. The project team hopes to make the Oil Spill Wand available to Wildlife Rescue Centres across the world within three years.

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Little penguin foraging behaviour and diet studies

We are proud to help fund the development of exciting new technology set to revolutionise the way in which oiled wildlife are cleaned.
The technology, dubbed the ‘Oil Spill Wand’, works when iron powder is applied to an oiled animal and binds with the oil. A magnetic wand is then waved over the animal, drawing up the metallic powder and oil. Traditional oil spill cleaning methods rely on hot water and detergent, and wildlife are easily stressed while scrubbed clean or transported and housed in special facilities.

 This project aims to understand the feeding hotspots of little penguins: what, where, when and how much food our penguins need? While most immediate threats to little penguins on land have being addressed, the challenge for penguin conservation is now at sea where penguins spend 80% of their lives. 

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Little penguin diving
(Phillip Island Nature Parks)

Researchers have identified which prey species are important to the little penguin and its ecosystem but they cannot predict cause and effect if a particular prey is removed due to mortality, fishing and environment changes without a mechanistic ecosystem model. Penguins are top predators and are sensitive to these ecosystem variations.

This research aims to provide fine-scale data to monitor marine prey abundance in relation to environmental changes, and is an important step to monitor the future of little penguins in the rapidly changing marine system of south-eastern Australia.

The Foundation is supporting this project, along with the Australian Research Council, Phillip Island Nature Parks, Monash University, Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curiet (France), Australian Antarctic Division and the Institut of Marine Science (Spain) by providing four hand held responder readers and programming an ecosystem model to measure prey abundance and availability in the marine habitats, allowing for integrated management of penguins and their food resources.

   

Past Projects

Satellite tracking

 The Foundation recently funded the purchase of EonFusion software which provides penguin researchers with a powerful visual of penguin movements at sea. 

Tracking the movements of little penguins at sea provides a snapshot of marine ecosystems, as well as where penguins go to feed. In 2008, the Foundation helped fund a research project that used satellite tracking to determine the winter feeding grounds of little penguins.

Over the three months of the study, the majority of little penguins travelled to Port Phillip Bay, south-west of Phillip Island, and west along the Victorian coast as far as Portland. The penguins spent on average seven to eight days at sea in search of fish.

The research highlights that Port Phillip Bay and western Victoria as important feeding grounds for little penguins during winter, which in turn informs wildlife management practices. The research also indicates the need for penguins to travel further in winter to find food.

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Microchip scanners

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 Microchips are used to identify penguins and are similar to what your dog or cat may have. Penguin researchers scan the microchip for a unique number and record data, such as the burrow number of that penguin. Over time, researchers build a history of individual penguins and can track any trends across the penguin colony.

The Foundation funded four new microchip readers that are capable of withstanding the harsh outdoor conditions of the coastal environment.

 

Penguins in water

 Diving behaviour

 With assistance from the Penguin Foundation, researchers at Phillip Island Nature Parks have determined that middle-aged female little penguins are better foragers than their younger or older counterparts. These research findings will help conservation managers predict the impact of environmental stresses on little penguin populations.

The results were recorded using accelerometers attached to the backs of 19 female little penguins. The accelerometres were used on one foraging trip per penguin and recorded maximum dive depth, dive duration, time at the bottom of the dive and in returning to the surface, and time spent pursuing prey.

The findings, published in 2011, indicate middle-aged female little penguins have more efficient hunting tactics - they spend less time diving in search of food and capture more prey by chasing it from the bottom and using their dark backs as camouflage.

"Young birds approach from above so the fish can see their white bellies and escape. They miss their chance," said Dr Andre Chiaradia, researcher at Phillip Island Nature Parks. 

Image: D Parer and E. Parer-Cook

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