Yesterday we made the trek from Melbourne to Phillip Island to take in one of Australia’s more peculiar tourist attractions — the Penguin Parade. About two hours south-east of the city, Phillip Island is a small speck of land in Western Port Bay which is home to a large colony of Little Penguins (a.k.a. Fairy Penguins, Eudyptula minor to the taxonomists). For the best part of a century tourists have been travelling to the island to see them return to land after fishing in the southern ocean and Port Phillip Bay.
The humans gather in a fenced enclosure on the beach just before dusk, while the penguins wait a few hundred metres offshore. When the sun sets, the penguins make their way, in groups of a dozen or so at a time, to the shore, where they gather, tumble in the gentle surf (they are tiny — just 13 inches high) and then, once they’ve summoned the courage, they waddle up the beach as fast as their little flippers will carry them, back to the sand dunes where they make their nests.
Tiny penguins! Hundreds of tiny penguins!
The tourists ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ as the tiny bodies whizz past them. They titter and coo like young mothers. The words ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ spill from even the most jaded lips. Occasionally, one of the wee birdies loses his nerve halfway up the beach, turns and flip-flops his way back to the safety of the water. The humans go ‘aw’ and murmur encouragement to the little blue-and-white fellow: ‘you can do it’.