Australians call it the Fairy Penguin. These common names come from their small size, the smallest of any of the world's penguins, and the distinctive slate-blue or indigo-blue coloration of the feathers on the top of their body. Their scientific genus name, Eudyptula, means 'good little diver,' which they are.
photo credit: Tobias Baumgaertner
Although Baumgaertner snapped the shot a year ago, he released it in March this year to reflect the isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The image won the Community Choice Award in Oceanographic magazine’s Ocean Photography Awards 2020.
These little penguins live along the southern coast of Australia, including Tasmania and also New Zealand.
Typically, folks will travel to Philips Island to see the fairy penguins as they come home for the night. Some Australians, who are not even Melbournians, shared that we could go to St. Kilda Pier just southeast of Melbourne CBD to see them.
St. Kilda Pier is only about 8-9 Km from downtown Melbourne. Philips Island is much farther at about 142 km from downtown Melbourne. I believe most tour groups go to Philips Island since it can accommodate a lot more people at once and still maintain distance from the penguins in their natural habitat. It's a great place to visit, but if it's just penguins you want to see and just a small group with you, you don't have to go that far.
The St. Kilda penguin residents are penguins that can appreciate a spectacular view of the downtown skyline. I'm partial to that view, myself.
St. Kilda Pier, SE Melbourne:
After a busy day of hunting and eating, these fairy penguins come home to the breakwater rocks every night after the sun goes down. These breakwater rocks are prime living accommodations for penguins since they provide insulation and safety. So, they build their nests in the rocks and have a beautiful view of downtown from the comforts of their waterfront home.
To be safe observers of this behavior, only 20 or so people are allowed beyond the restaurant and fishing pier at a time. We registered (for free) to venture beyond the fence onto the rock breakwater for one of the groups. Since we had some time before our scheduled group and waiting for the sun to go down, we had dinner and drinks at the pier restaurant.
Quite the view of downtown Melbourne!
It was a bit hard to see the little penguins since we didn't want to startle them with bright lights. But with halogen path lights and red flashlights, we could see them without disturbing them. Keep in mind that they are only a couple of pounds in weight and just a bit over a foot tall. We could hear them talking to and calling each other. These penguins are also monogamous, typically having only one mate for a lifetime. They are sympathetic and supportive of the penguins who have lost a mate. Supposedly, the first picture in this blog post is of two widowed penguins consoling each other. Not sure if that is true, but it certainly makes for a feel-good story.