Mortality and breeding failure of little penguins, Eudyptula minor, in Victoria, 1995-96, following a widespread mortality of pilchard, Sardinops sagax
Dann, P and Norman, FI and Cullen, JM and Neira, FJ and Chiaradia, A, Mortality and breeding failure of little penguins, Eudyptula minor, in Victoria, 1995-96, following a widespread mortality of pilchard, Sardinops sagax, Marine and Freshwater Research, 51, (4) pp. 355-62. ISSN 1323-1650 (2000) [Refereed Article]
In May 1995, numbers of little penguins, Eudyptula minor, coming ashore declined at Phillip Island and St Kilda concurrently with deaths of many penguins in western Victoria and a massive mortality of one of their food species (pilchard) throughout southern Australia. Among 1926 dead penguins reported were 131 banded birds recovered from Phillip Island (86% adults and 14% first-year birds), 26 from Rabbit Island and six from St Kilda. The number of banded penguins found dead per number of adult Phillip Island birds at risk was 2.3% in 1995 compared with an annual mean of 0.7% for 1970-93. Of 29 corpses autopsied, at least 26 died of starvation associated with mild-severe gastro-intestinal parasitism. Following the pilchard mortality, egg-laying by penguins in the subsequent breeding season (1995-96) was ~2 weeks later than the long-term mean and 0.3 chicks were fledged per pair compared with the long-term mean of 1.0. Unlike previous years, few penguins were recorded in Port Phillip Bay in September-October 1995, a period when pilchard schools were infrequently seen. It is concluded that the increase in penguin mortality in northern Bass Strait and the significant reduction in breeding success were associated with the widespread pilchard mortality.