PENGUIN numbers are on the rise the first count of 2018 shows, after the devastating fox massacre last year which killed about 70.
Middle Island project coordinator Dr Trish Corbett said 18 penguins were recorded as part of the count on Sunday.
She said that number indicated there was a breeding population of 32 on Middle Island.
The penguins have only just started to arrive for the season and the number of penguins breeding will usually peak around the last week in December.
“It’s early in the breeding season, but the numbers are encouraging, with more penguins arriving than this time last year,” Dr Corbett said.
“We are currently estimating a total population of between 70 and 100 penguins.
“The fox attack in 2017 greatly reduced the local penguin population, but our colony has faced worse odds than this before and is already showing signs of recovery.”
New Maremma recruit Mezzo went to the penguin count for the first time.
He will take over the guardian dog role with another Maremma, Isola, when long-time guardians Eudy and Tula retire.
Dr Corbett said Mezzo was showing great aptitude for penguin protecting.
“Mezzo has been so impressive in his training that it looks like he will be able to start work earlier than expected,” she said.
“We will run sleep-over trials on the island with both Mezzo and Isola this season before deciding when they are ready to become fully-fledged penguin protectors.
“We are very happy with the progress Isola is making too. She is three months younger than Mezzo and still very much a pup so will need a little longer before she can stay overnight on the island. ”
People can interact and learn about the innovative program with a Meet the Maremma Experience.
Bookings for the 2018/2019 season are now open.
Last summer more than 3200 enjoyed the experience, which was double the previous year’s numbers.
Warrnambool City Council’s visitor economy manager David McMahon said the Visitor Information Centre had been taking enquiries from eager customers for a number of months .
“The Meet the Maremma Experience is a great way to learn more about Warrnambool’s Little Penguin colony and the work that goes into protecting it while ensuring that Middle Island is preserved as a conservation site,” he said.
Tours will run from December 2 until the Easter school holidays.
Bookings can be made at www.iamwarrnambool.com.au or via the Warrnambool Visitor Information Centre on 1800 556 111.
All profits from the tours go towards the care of the Middle Island Maremma dogs