Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Little Penguins Make Deadly Hunting Teams

GPS tracking has revealed that little penguins (Eudyptula minor) forage for food in groups, working together to target prey.

More than 60 little penguins (formerly known as fairy penguins) were fitted with miniature GPS tracking devices at London Bridge in south-west Victoria’s Port Campbell National Park, enabling researchers to monitor their breeding patterns while searching for food.

Maud Berlincourt of Deakin University found that the little penguins could synchronise their underwater movements, working together to concentrate their small schooling prey. “We did not expect this behaviour, but it makes sense when you consider that foraging on schools of small mobile prey would be more efficient if done in a co­ordinated fashion, even loosely cooperative,” Berlincourt said.

“More than two-thirds of the penguins worked with one or several other penguins to find prey. Almost half of the penguins I monitored during the study between 2011 and 2013 also went diving with other individual penguins, some of them synchronising their diving activity together to hunt prey.”

Berlincourt said the study, published in PLOS ONE, was significant because it highlighted the existence of previously unknown at-sea behaviour in little penguins.

Synchronised dives and foraging in the same locations have been observed previously in several other penguin species, but the degree of interaction between individuals was uncertain and little was known about how often penguins were associating with other individual penguins when at sea.

“This study was the first to look at a whole foraging trip and to examine spatial overlap in time and coordinated diving behaviour in little penguins, indicative of group foraging,” she said.