The sad story behind this devastating photograph of a little penguin

By Australian Geographic | June 27, 2019

This photograph is a shortlisted image in this years Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition.

Kim Wormald was visiting the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee, one of her favourite places and a significant birding site.

What Kim found was heartbreaking – a dead little penguin.

Little penguins are routinely victims of dog attacks and can become the victims of Victoria’s duck hunting season, which kicks off in March each year.

“A couple of weeks ago, I was shocked to see a hunter hidden behind saltbush at the foreshore, and more shocked to be told that it was legal as long as he stayed below the high tide mark.

“Since then I have spoken with Melbourne Water, the Game Management Authority and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and was eventually told that shooting at the Werribee River Park, the WTP foreshore and Spit Wildlife Reserve is illegal.

It was difficult for Kim to tell what had killed this particular penguin, so it was taken to a vet at Melbourne Zoo, who confirmed the injuries were consistent with a dog attack. 

With a camera in hand ready to photograph Australia’s beautiful birdlife, Kim turned her lens to the unfortunate scene.

“One of the rescuers noticed the ‘no shooting’, ‘no dogs’ sign and held the little penguin up beside it – it was a photograph that had to be taken.

“It was distressing to see blood still dripping from the penguin; I realised that if I could capture a drop of blood as it fell the image would more accurately portray the emotion I was feeling. 

“I usually try to get a catchlight in a bird’s eye, this time the catchlight is in the drop of blood.

The image has received backlash from the hunting community, who Kim says “don’t want the dark side of duck shooting to be exposed.”

In early 2018, a leaked report found that non-compliance with hunting laws is commonplace and widespread in Victoria.

“I’m constantly puzzled by shooters who continue to defend the indefensible, though I have also been contacted by ex-shooters who have been sickened by the carnage.”

Others have described the image as ‘confronting’, ‘thought-provoking’, ‘terribly sad’ and ‘powerful’. 

Kim hopes that sharing the image and having it successfully shortlisted in this year’s Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition will encourage the public and also our politicians to understand the impact of the Victorian duck shooting season on wildlife.

“I hoped to capture an image that would convey the emotion I was feeling, to help people understand some of the sickening realities associated with recreational duck shooting. 

“I hope people write to politicians, and encourage them to ban recreational duck shooting.”

Kim Wormald’s image ‘The Hand of Man’ is a shortlisted image in the Our Impact category of the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition. See the rest of the images here.