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Fitbits capture Phillip Island penguins as parents and providers

Mitch Clarke, April 27, 2021 7:00PM News Corp Australia Network

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According to one of the paper’s authors, Phillip Island Nature Parks’ Penguin Biologist, Dr Andre Chiaradia, the findings are something of a surprise, as it was previously thought both parents contributed equally to raising chicks. Picture: Phillip Island Nature Parks. media_cameraAccording to one of the paper’s authors, Phillip Island Nature Parks’ Penguin Biologist, Dr Andre Chiaradia, the findings are something of a surprise, as it was previously thought both parents contributed equally to raising chicks. Picture: Phillip Island Nature Parks.

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Scientists are tagging penguins with special ‘fitbits’ to get a glimpse of their life at sea. The sensors have unlocked the secrets of penguins foraging* for food at different stages of life, with marine scientists from Phillip Island Nature Parks hopeful the findings will help to secure future food supply.

The penguin fitbits help to show where the little penguins go, how deep they travel and how often they dive.

Little penguins have been fitted with "fitbit" like tracking devices so scientists can learn more about their life at sea. Picture: Phillip Island Nature Parks media_cameraLittle penguins have been fitted with fitbit-like tracking devices so scientists can learn more about their life at sea. Picture: Phillip Island Nature Parks.

A recent study followed 10 male penguins over an entire breeding season, which gave scientists a feeding snapshot of the entire population. Phillip Island marine scientist Dr Andre Chiaradia said the study found penguins were “remarkably flexible” when hunting a diverse* diet, from jellyfish to sardines and small barracoutas (also known as snake mackerel).

“They vary their feeding strategy* at short notice to get the best food, and choose different foods depending on where they are in their breeding stage,” Dr Chiaradia said.

“What we’ve learned has shown us that we shouldn’t always rely on information based on a single feeding trip.”

Penguin biologist Andre Chiaradia with a Little Penguin chick at the Phillip Island Nature Park in Victoria. Research at the park has shown that middle-aged Little Penguin mothers are better able to feed their chicks than their younger counterparts. media_cameraPenguin biologist Dr Andre Chiaradia with a little penguin chick at the Phillip Island Nature Parks in Victoria. Research at the park has shown that middle-aged little penguin mothers are better able to feed their chicks than younger ones. Picture: Phillip Island Nature Parks.

Satellite tracking showed that most of Phillip Island’s little penguins fed within 50km of the colony. Some penguins tracked over winter headed west towards Portland or into Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne.

Dr Chiaradia said when incubating* eggs, penguins often foraged far out at sea while one parent sat on the eggs. But he said that once the chicks hatched, the male penguin travelled closer to the colony and returned quickly and regularly to feed the young.

“This is another crucial* piece of a puzzle in understanding the lives of penguins at sea,” Dr Chiaradia added.

“Every piece of information we gather assists us in protecting the little penguin population into the future.”

GLOSSARY

foraging: searching, gathering

diverse: varied

strategy: system, plan

incubating: keeping eggs warm and protected until hatching

crucial: necessary, important

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QUICK QUIZ

Where were the marine scientists from?

What did the fitbits help to show?

How many male penguins were monitored?

What does the little penguins’ diet include?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Circular Flow Chart

Represent all the information on penguin breeding and feeding patterns in a visual diagram/flowchart. It could look like the example below or different if you wish.

media_cameraExample of a circular flow chart.

It should be clear and easy to read and include all the information of what penguins eat and how their patterns differ when breeding.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension

How will the information gained from these ‘fit-bits’ help the penguin population in and around Phillip Island in Victoria to remain strong and healthy?

Can you identify any of these penguins feeding habits being similar to humans? Which ones?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY

I Spy Nouns

Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick 3 nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

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