Penguins Past Sunset
After the final show in Melbourne, everyone climbed aboard the buses for a special treat—we were going to see the “penguin parade!” It features little penguins which, at a height of about 31 centimeters, are the smallest penguins in the world. Due to their small size, they are prey to many animals both on land and water. The penguins’ white bellies and dark blue backs protect them from watchful predators in the sea and air during the day and the darkness at night shields them as they march back onto land into their burrows. We hoped to catch glimpses of the penguins at sunset.
Sadly, because of the two-hour drive to Phillip Island it was already past sunset and we missed the first group of penguins. I was quite disappointed at first, but soon excited whispers drew me to the edge of the wooden walkway. There, just in sight, was a little group of about eight penguins. Everyone held their breath as the penguins waddled our way, and I focused on this one adorably obese penguin. A bulletin board nearby explained that it is almost molting season for the little penguins. Since they can’t eat anything during that time, the penguins sometimes nearly double their weight beforehand. The chubby one had some difficulty catching up with the others, and would stop to rest often. After the group was about two human steps ahead, the resting penguin would suddenly run with lightning speed to catch up. Soon, it would lag behind again, sometimes almost dragging its belly on the ground while walking. When the poor penguin dropped too far behind, some of the other members of the group would turn and make encouraging sounds, and it would zoom right up again. After a while, I returned to the beach to see another group of penguins dragging themselves from the ocean and begin the long journey to their burrows. I followed them until, one by one, they detached themselves from the group and crawled into their homes.
Eventually, I strolled back into main building and took a look in the crowded souvenir shop: penguins—plastic, stuffed, and embroidered—filled every shelf! Happy chatter filled the atmosphere as tourists browsed for the perfect way to remember this little piece of nature, and I was one of them.
March 11, 2011