Meet the penguins, and the makers behind this lively little bird doco
Last week, Southern Ocean Live (SOL) – a live extravaganza showcasing Australia’s winter marine life – screened across the country (available on ABC iview).
This week a spin-off documentary, Meet the Penguins, featuring the effervescent Dr Ann Jones, takes a deeper dive into the lives of the little penguins that featured in last week’s show. The program follows the annual breeding cycle – we get to know Phillip Island’s penguins as they stake their territory, partner up and raise their chicks, as well as forage at sea.
Executive Producer and Director, Karina Holden, has been working with live broadcast technicians and scientists to develop the methodology for making a live documentary series for several years. Her previous series, Reef Live, broadcast in 2020, was considered a technical marvel – it was the first time a natural history event had been broadcast live, at night, from underwater, with talent speaking through underwater comms.
“Southern Ocean Live took it to a whole new level,” Karina says, “broadcasting from mass event spectacles such as the spider crab migration in Port Phillip Bay, Spencer Gulf’s giant cuttlefish courtship aggregations and the nightly arrival of penguins on Phillip Island.”
Karina, who also wrote and directed this documentary, used the latest ultra-low light camera technology in order to film the penguins under moonlight, and manages to capture details never previously seen before in colour. Camera traps in their burrows also reveal the moment eggs are hatched and even predation by the rakali, a native water rat.
Meet the Penguins also features little penguins living in the Melbourne city suburb of St Kilda. A growing population has made a home on the breakwater at the end of the pier there, with 1400 penguins now inhabiting the human-made structure.
The film is a rare treat in positive conservation outcomes. Little penguins on both Phillip Island and in St Kilda are having bumper years. With the eradication of feral predators and the addition of nest boxes, these carefully monitored populations are not only recovering, they’re booming. This year, the penguin parade has had record numbers cross the beach in the nightly waddle (5219 penguins), and chicks are being born outside the traditional breeding period of spring and summer.
Little penguins appear to be taking advantage of the warmer water temperatures as a result of the strengthening of the East Australian Current, with some pairs breeding twice, even three times this year. It’s called ‘double or triple clutching’ and it means colonies that have been smashing previous breeding records and populations, at least in these two locations, are growing.
Warm, surprising, revelatory and uplifting, Meet the Penguins shows us that while little penguins may be the world’s smallest penguin, they might just be the toughest too!
Watch on ABC Television at 8.30pm, Tuesday 28 June 2022, or on Iview.