Taronga Wildlife Hospital staff today returned eight healthy Little Penguins to the ocean at Long Reef.
The birds arrived at Taronga in recent weeks from afar afield as Newcastle, Hawks Nest and Bondi, malnourished from their annual moult or suffering injuries including one which had to have a toe amputated after it became entangled in abandoned fishing line.
Taronga Wildlife Hospital manager, Libby Hall, said: “It’s been a very busy season this year and we’ve seen a lot more birds than usual. We’re hoping it’s because there are more penguins out there this season, but we can’t be sure.”
“Most of these birds were brought to us by people who saw them in difficulties and took action. The community’s awareness of Little Penguins and other wildlife is increasing all the time and by acting, they give us the best chance to help the birds through difficult times.”
The Zoo is caring for a further four birds, which are still not ready for release. Hospital staff had already rehabilitated three penguins which the NSW National Parks Service returned to the water at the Manly Colony earlier this month.
Little Penguins are particularly vulnerable during their annual moult as they can’t return to the water until the new feathers have grown through and waterproofed the birds’ bodies. Because they can’t return to the water to fish, they become emaciated and can be attacked by domestic pets, most particularly dogs.
Libby said: “When they come to us, we can keep them safe and feed them so they can return to the ocean when they have finished moulting and weigh about one kilogram”.
The birds were once fairly common in Sydney but urban development and domestic pets have placed them under pressure. Despite being small, Little Penguins are incredible swimmers with young birds recorded making journeys of over 1200 km.
The colony at Manly is the last remaining on the mainland of NSW, with other colonies now located on islands which offer some protection from pressure from humans and domestic pets.
People can help Little Penguins at beaches by keeping dogs on leashes, not leaving rubbish including fishing tackle around and protecting plants and trees at the shore.