It all started with the wettest November that the area has had on record for the last 100 years.
Many late breeding penguins got caught out in huge deluge, causing flooding, which we believe flooded many of the natural burrows. This forced some parents to abandon their nesting sites, leaving their young fluffy chicks to go on walk-about trying to find food for themselves. Because of this we started the season caring for many skinny, young chicks.
We thought we would have to close the evening penguin tours up early, but a few came home every night so we kept on going right up to February the 16th the night we generally close the evening tours. But that is when we actually started to get better viewing opportunities on the water with more adults coming to moult (changing their feathers).
The Penguins this year started moulting in full swing the 2nd week of February instead of mid-January like usual. They might have had to spend more time at sea fattening up and getting up to weight to start moulting? The food source may have arrived late? …
They seem to be doing better now and are still hanging around which is very strange for this time of the year as we usually don’t have a single penguin left in the bay.
Being marine birds that spend 75% of their time in or on the water they can’t afford to loose feathers like other birds willy-nilly as this would create holes and they wouldn’t be entirely insulated and waterproof. So penguins do it all in one hit. Once a year they fatten up spending an average of 6 weeks gaining enough body weight, almost doubling their size if they can, so they can sit around in nesting areas for an average of 10 days living of their fat reserves moulting, loosing and plucking feathers.
Ben one of our guides was saying one adult was so fat he didn’t know how he even squeezed through his door, it was taking up the whole box, it was a penguin with a double chin.
By the time they finish moulting and have changed their coat, from the dull grey colour of the old dead feathers and replaced them with a new blue coat they potentially have lost up to 50% of their body weight. If they don’t have enough weight on while going through the process they can starve to death and that is why we can end up with some in care during this stage.
Here’s a video of some moulting White-flippered penguins pulling out their feathers and it is rather easy to spot and understand the different stages of the moulting process.