A penguin weighbridge is a monitoring system that tells us important information about little penguin health and their lives at sea.
The Bank of Melbourne Penguin Weighbridge was recently completed and is now in action. It's nestled among penguin burrows on the Western Port side of the Summerland Peninsula on Phillip Island. Little penguins cross the bridge when they leave their burrows to head out to sea to hunt for food, and waddle over it again upon their return. As they cross, the weighbridge scans their individual microchips and captures their body weights. This data is then sent in real time to Phillip Island Nature Parks scientists so they can monitor the penguins weight, the length of time and frequency of their fishing trips and the amount of food they have brought back for chicks waiting impatiently in their burrows. When penguins' weights are measured, those that are heavier are likely to be healthier, fishing more successfully, and bringing more fish home for their chicks.
Little penguins are top ocean predators, they play an important role in balancing marine food webs and are a valuable 'indicator species'. Changes in penguin health can indicate changes in marine ecosystem structure and function but these changes can be difficult for scientists to observe. Using the weighbridge to analyse penguin diet and foraging is a valuable way to understand life underwater and threats such as climate change, pollution or overfishing. It's critically important that Phillip Island Nature Parks scientists understand this information in order to protect little penguins and their marine environment today and for the future.
We thank Bank of Melbourne for their contribution of $120,000 towards developing this tool and for their continued support of the Penguin Foundation.