Clues to penguin long-life were revealed earlier this month when a 19 year-old penguin (let’s call her Wanda) was found dead on Middle Park beach. The average lifespan of a St Kilda little penguin (Eudyptula minor) is around 8 years, partly due to the fact that many chicks don’t survive their first year. Both parents work hard to feed them during their first 10 weeks of life. Then they are left to fend for themselves, which can be a steep learning curve!
Little penguins are weakened by weight loss in the 2 weeks they have to stay on land while they moult. Once they have their new feathers and can return to sea they need to find fish fast to recover good condition. It seems the annual weight loss during moult, and possibly the recent murky water, had finally been too much for Wanda.
Remarkably, Earthcare’s St Kilda Penguin Study had recorded Wanda on St Kilda breakwater only nine times in her 19 years, usually when moulting; and never with eggs or chicks. On two occasions she was found with the same male companion, and once with a female. This suggests she spent much of her time at sea, occasionally returning to land to socialise. Her long life shows she was good at catching fish and steering clear of death traps such as fuel spills, fishing line, nets, and floating plastic. But can it be her real secret to long life is…. DON’T HAVE KIDS! 🙂