THE number of penguins killed by a fox attack on Warrnambool’s Middle Island has risen to 140.
Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network volunteers made the horrific discovery on August 9, when 70 little penguins were found dead on the island’s boardwalk.
After a thorough search the following day, another 70 dead penguins were collected.
Middle Island Project Working Group chairwoman Dr Anne Wallis said it had been a “disheartening experience” for volunteers and for the wider community.
“However, for those who have given so much of their time to saving the Middle Island little penguin colony, it is reassuring to know that our penguins have come back from worse odds before,” she said. “Estimates from the last breeding season indicated approximately 182 breeding individuals were on the island, which equates to between 200 and 250 individuals in the colony.
“What we have found, thanks to microchip technology, is that in recent years Middle Island is attracting a few penguins who previously called Phillip Island home.
“That new penguins are coming to the island each season is a bonus for our colony.”
Maremma dogs, the penguin’s guardians, where not on the island when foxes were able to swim across and strike. The dogs went back on the island the day after the attack, and there has been no further incidents.
This year the penguins arrived in larger numbers at an earlier time than previous years.
Along with installing the maremma guardian dogs on Middle Island, each year an authorised Warrnambool City Council officer shoots a number of foxes in the precinct.
As a result of the recent penguin kill, other fox control methods will be investigated.
Since the introduction of the maremma guardian dogs to the island more than a decade ago the Middle Island penguin colony had recovered from fewer than 10 birds in 2005 to more than 200.