Piebald penguin discovered

By Morgan Pettersson 28 November 2013
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Researchers have found an odd penguin which may help to better understand little penguin populations.

AG SOCIETY SPONSORED SCIENTISTS working on a little penguin colony at Jervis Bay have found this motley-looking penguin, suffering from a condition known as piebald leucism.

It’s a rare genetic disorder which results in a lack of pigmentation on a part of its body, in this case over its usually blue feather coat.

Researcher Sandra Vogel from the University of New South Wales who spotted the penguin has been leading a research project along the coast of New South Wales and is confident that, although piebald, the penguin is perfectly healthy. However, its chances of survival are slim.  

“Little penguins are usually blue on top and white underneath when swimming, making them very hard to see for predators like sea eagles,” Sandra says. “With this advantage being compromised, the piebald penguin will have a hard time surviving.”

Little penguins under threat

Little penguins are currently listed as protected under the New South Wales government and their distribution is limited to the southern regions of Australia.

Scientists are working to find out more about the little penguins, in the hopes that better understanding will lead to more effective protection for the species.

Sandra is focusing on the New South Wales penguin colonies, and is currently conducting demographic research in Jervis Bay. Sandra’s fieldwork has taken her to islands in Jervis Bay and the Pittwater region where she spends days at a time catching, assessing, micro-chipping and then releasing as many as 50 penguins a day.

“It is important to forecast population changes in Little Penguin colonies because the penguins are both a good indicator of ecosystem health on land and at sea as well as an iconic native Australian animal, which might be in need of more protection than it currently receives.”

“Unless we know which threats the penguins are most vulnerable to, we might not be able to respond to those threats before the penguins are at risk of serious population declines” Sandra says.