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LITTLE PENGUIN HANDLING TRAINING GUIDE BY PHILLIP ISLAND NATURE PARKS

Womin jeka ~ Welcome

Welcome to your Little Penguin Handling Training Guide. This information was put together to ensure every Little Penguin handler has a thorough understanding of the best practices before conducting any fieldwork. It will provide you with an overview of how to handle Little penguins in their natural environment, while maintaining the highest standard of animal welfare and OH&S. We need to make sure the penguins, people and environment are all well looked after while undertaking any field research.

Please note, under the Wildlife Act 1975, it is illegal to disturb or handle wildlife without the appropriate licences and approvals.

Throughout this guide, we'll touch on:

  • Pre-Fieldwork Requirements
  • Health & Safety Checks
  • Little Penguin Habitat & Cultural Significance
  • Burrow Checking
  • Measuring & Recording Data
  • Little Penguin Chicks
  • Moulting Little Penguins
  • Penguin Emergencies

Pre-Fieldwork Requirements

There are certain ethical standards needed to ensure working with Little Penguins in their natural environment is compliant. We have outlined these in full detail in our Fieldwork Protocols document, so please also take a look at this before heading into the field.

Health & Safety Checklist:

  1. Compulsory induction - Have you completed your induction and read, understood and signed the relevant Safe Work Methods Statement?
  2. Personal Safety - Are you wearing the correct Personal Protective Equipment and do you have any medications you may need with you?
  3. First Aid - Do you know where your nearest first aid kit is?
  4. Biosecurity - Have you removed potential pathogens (bacteria, viruses or weeds) from your shoes and clothing?

Little Penguin Habitat

Little penguin habitat on Summerland Peninsula is made up of both natural and artificial penguin burrows (nest boxes). Natural burrows can be found dug into the sand and soil, amongst natural vegetation like bower spinach and poa tussocks. From September to April, Short-tailed shearwaters create long burrows underground and breed in high density around the Peninsula. During this time, the colony is a very fragile environment and extra precautions must be taken when walking off the boardwalks around the Penguin Parade and Nobbies Centre; or off roads around the Summerland Peninsula.

Protecting Burrows & Minimising Disturbance

Special attention must be paid when walking through the colony, as natural burrows can easily be collapsed, resulting in the potential injury or death of seabirds. Best practice is to never step directly to the side of, or behind, any natural burrow. Care also needs to be taken around artificial nest boxes as birds extend their burrows outside the box perimeter. If a burrow is collapsed, it must be dug out immediately to ensure that there are no birds/eggs under the sand that have been pushed into the burrow.

Other guidelines to help minimise disturbance:

  • Remain calm and quiet while in the colony.
  • Handling times should be kept to a minimum.
  • Penguins must be processed as soon as they are removed from the burrow and immediately released back into the same burrow they were removed from (< five minutes handling time).
  • Generally, Little penguins in the field must not be handled in the rain or in high temperatures (~32 degrees and above), or otherwise directed by trained Nature Parks staff.

Cultural Significance

Summerland Peninsula is a culturally sensitive location for the Bunurong and Boon Wurrung Peoples. Many middens (feeding and gathering spots) are located around the Peninsula, including at the Penguin Parade. All Aboriginal cultural places in Victoria are protected by law and it is illegal to disturb or destroy an Aboriginal place; including knowingly walking over a midden. People should take caution when working near any of the below sites.

A map of registered cultural heritage sites on the Peninsula (please note not all sites have been registered so you still need to be careful in culturally sensitive areas).

Burrow Checking

As mentioned above, Little penguins on the Summerland Peninsula live in both natural burrows and artificial nesting boxes. The artificial nesting boxes may or may not have removable lids. Slightly different methods of penguin removal are employed for each situation to ensure penguin welfare is paramount. The information below gives you a snapshot of this but for full details, please refer to our protocols document.

For boxes with opening lids:

  • Use a barrier, such as gloves or a penguin bag, and place between you and the penguin.
  • Control of the head needs to be gained first then a hand can be slid under the bottom of the bird. The penguin can then be gently lifted out while both the head and bottom are held and supported.

For natural burrows and boxes with lids that do not open:

  • A gloved hand is slid along the bottom of the burrow, feeling for the feet.
  • Once the feet are felt, one should be grabbed and the bird gently pulled out.
  • Under no circumstances should a penguin be pulled out by its flippers.

Measuring and Recording Data: Scanning, Sexing & Weighing

The development of non-invasive tools and technologies to monitor wildlife has provided an opportunity to conduct research on Little penguins while ensuring a high level of animal welfare and OH&S standards are upheld. When working with the Nature Parks, handlers will use a variety of Data Recording Scanners (DRS) as well as other important technologies to record measurements and observations.

Scanning Little Penguins

Once a nesting box lid is opened or a penguin is out of the burrow, it should be swiftly scanned with a DRS for a microchip.

  • This should be done thoroughly, scanning the entire back and sides of the penguin.
  • If no microchip is found, it may then need to be scanned by a multi-reader scanner.
  • If still no microchip is found, the penguin should be marked as untagged (‘UT’) in the scanner.
  • If the penguin requires microchipping for the project and an approved and qualified person is present, it can be microchipped on the spot.
This scanner shows the penguin had been previously microchipped.

Sexing Little Penguins

Adult birds can be sexed as male or female. Males on Phillip Island have bill depths greater than 13.3mm and females have bill depths less than 13.3mm. The sexing process is as simple as measuring the bill depth (explained in the morphometrics section below). After practice, it is possible to visually identify the sex of penguins, with males having thicker bills and often a more pronounced hook. The sex field in the data recording scanners should be left blank if sex is unsure, as this can be looked up and filled in later by the Research team.

Weighing Little Penguins

Adult Little penguins should only be weighed under the following circumstances:

  • Before microchipping
  • If removed out of a natural burrow or a nest box without a removable lid and placed into a bag.
  • If the adult is in a burrow with chicks and the chicks require weighing.
  • It is a specific requirement of the project and approved by the Principal Investigator.

How to weigh a Little penguin:

  1. Grab a small or large spring balance, depending on the size of the bird.
  2. Zero the bag by weighing it empty and adjusting the balance to 0.
  3. Place the penguin into the bag and thread the spring balance hook through the loop on the bag.
  4. Record the weight that shows once the spring balance is still.
  5. *When weighing, it is important to make sure the scales are at eye level and the bag is not touching the ground.

Measuring and Recording Data: Morphometrics

Morphometric measurements need to be taken for some research projects. Below is a description of common morphometrics and how they are accurately measured. To reduce stress on the penguin, only measurements that are required for the project should be taken and should be done infrequently (eg. prior to microchipping, device attachment, etc).

Head length is measured with callipers from the back of the middle of the birds head to the tip of the beak. Ensure that the callipers are parallel with the beak.
Bill length is measured from where the bill joins the head to the tip (the exposed culmen).
Bill depth is measured from in front of the nares (nostrils), as this is the thinnest part of the beak. Ensure that the callipers are flush with the underside of the beak. When the measurement is taken, it is important to pull the callipers down, away from the bill, towards the direction of the fine calliper points, rather than pulling the callipers up over the length of the bill.
The approximate minimum and maximum lengths for different Little penguin morphometrics. This can be used as a guide to make sure the measurements have been taken correctly.

Little Penguin Chicks

Young, pre-blue feathered chicks are identified by three early stages - stage A, stage B & stage C.

Once chicks start developing blue feathers, they are classed as one of the following 'P' stages.

Moulting Little Penguins

If a Little penguin is in moult, ‘M’, should be recorded as follows.

If there is an un-microchipped moulting bird, it must not be microchipped unless it is an M4 or M5, over 750g, and microchipping is required for the approved research project. When moulting birds are growing new feathers, there are a lot of blood vessels close to the surface. Microchipping a bird early in moult will result in the bird bleeding significantly more from the wound than normal.Again, for full details on microchipping, please refer to our protocols document.

Little Penguin Emergencies

Little penguins can easily become stressed which, if not recognised and minimised quickly, may lead to an adverse outcome for the bird. Dilated pupils, panting and feeling hot to touch are all signs that a Little penguin is stressed. If this happens, the penguin must be returned to its burrow immediately.

If these signs are not noticed or ignored, the penguin may become limp and unresponsive. At this stage, the penguin is near death and must be placed back in the burrow and the Wildlife Clinic Rangers or research staff members contacted immediately for advice and assistance. For more information on what to do when a Little penguin becomes stressed, please refer to our protocols document.

Ensuring Best Practice

As mentioned throughout this guide and in our protocols document, Phillip Island Nature Parks holds high standards of animal welfare. Any best practice techniques mentioned have been supported by research and will be regularly reviewed and refined as our knowledge increases and further technology becomes available.

Contact: info@penguins.org.au