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Fears for penguin colony’s survival
Research scientist Belinda Cannell with a little penguin on Penguin Island.

A Rockingham tourism operator is seriously concerned about the decline in little penguin numbers on Penguin Island after a report released last week painted a bleak picture for the animals’ future.

Rockingham Wild Encounters director Aaron Heath said he shared the concerns of Murdoch University researcher Belinda Cannell, who believes the penguin colony could be wiped out in 40 years.

Speaking at the weekend, Dr Cannell, who has studied the penguins for the past 18 years, said a shortage of whitebait, the penguin’s main food source, could threaten their future.

Dr Cannell said over the past two years whitebait had been driven away from the area because of ‘‘anomalous’’ sea temperatures.

Mr Heath, whose company operates a ferry service to the island during summer, said the population of little penguins on the island, the biggest on the west coast, was ‘‘a unique and very special colony’’.

‘‘We have been watching them for a long time,’’ he said.

‘‘The whitebait situation is the main factor and there are no whitebait fishing boats going out these days.’’

Mr Heath said the little penguin parents take turns to find food, spending a few days out at sea, before returning to feed their chicks.

‘‘Now they are having to spend more time out at sea looking for food so are spending more time away from the chicks, and the other parent will sometimes leave the chicks because they get too hungry waiting,’’ he said.

‘‘It doesn’t take much for the chicks to succumb without food and their parents’ warmth.’’

Mr Heath hoped the population would continue to be researched.

‘‘The important thing is to keep studies going and look at implementing some controls that will prevent them from being wiped out,’’ he said.