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The Penguins of St Kilda

The St Kilda Breakwater is home to a colony of around 1200 Little Penguins. The timber extensions of the St Kilda Pier Promenade were replaced by a stone breakwater to shelter the yachts in preparation for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The breakwater is constructed mainly of bluestone, urban rubble, soil and sand, and is capable of supporting mooring facilities for up to 300 vessels including members of the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron. The construction of the breakwater added another colour to the St Kilda rainbow. The breakwater provided an important habitat for Little Penguins. Along with the Penguins came other creatures like Rakali (Water Rats), Crested Terns and Cormorants.  This attracted more visitors to the Pier. The original breakwater was extended further in 1998.

At dusk, Little Penguins will make a return to their burrows at the breakwater. Breakwater being home to a colony of more than a 1000 Penguins, this all seasons affair is an everyday occurrence. Those with a little patience will be able to find them during daylight hours too, hidden in their burrows. The anglers offering them fish to entice them out of their burrows and they make a quick- second entry and return with the fish in their beaks is a sight reserved for daytime visitors.For two weeks in each summer, adult Penguins endure a complete replacement of their feathers called ‘moulting’. During moulting they can’t hunt so they rely on their body fat while staying hidden in the breakwater burrows. Moulting leaves them vulnerable and defenceless, but this is a natural process. There are two wooden stairs that will take to a timber walkaway at one side of the Breakwater to view the Penguins up and close.

Little Penguins feed on anchovies, squid, garfish and sprat. They can cover approximately 45km per day relying upon the swimming ability and fishing skills to provide enough food for their families.

Survival of the Penguin Colony here, requires some consideration from visitors in their activities along the breakwater. It is important not to use flash while taking photos. Penguin eyesight is much more sensitive to bright light than ours. They see blue end of light spectrum much more intensively than red. Good eye sight is mandatory for maintaining their hunting skills and to find their way back to the burrows. Give them 2-3m of personal space to make them feel at home and do not try to touch or chase them. These are all part of maintaining a positive interaction with the wild life.

These Little Penguins are around 30cm tall and weigh little over a kilo.  St Kilda breakwater is the only confirmed breeding site for the Penguins that is directly attached to the Mainland and the first breeding was recorded in 1974. During the day, they are either at sea fishing or holed up in their burrow. At night they come out, for they feel safe from predators. The best viewing time is one hour after sunset and during this time you may be able to see them coming from the sea or passing over the rocks. The volunteers from Earthcare St Kilda, usually positioned there at dusk to discourage the use of flash photography and to educate people when they stand on the rocks or get too close to the Penguins. They are doing a commendable service in protecting and creating a less intrusive environment for the Penguins.

Fairy Penguin

The Wild life story of the breakwater doesn’t end with the Penguins. Native water Rats known by the indigenous name Rakali, can sometimes be seen among the rocks or swimming in the shallows. These semi aquatic Mammals were hunted down for their soft fur and was considered as a pest species. They have waterproof fur, webbed feet and rudder like tail with a white tip enabling them to swim easily.


Rakali enjoy a sea food diet of aquatic insects, mussels, crabs, crustaceans and sandworms.  At dusk they can be seen foraging among the precious sea grass meadows and diving in the shallows. When Rakali come out to play it means the Penguins aren’t far away.

Old newspaper reports present interesting stories about Penguin sightings in St Kilda. We share some of it here with the belief that it may interest our readers.

News (Adelaide, SA: 1923 – 1954) Tue 22 May 1945

Penguin Saved from Cat by Bus Driver

MELBOURNE. –On his journey through St. Kilda, a tramway bus driver saw a large tomcat stalking a little penguin. He stopped the bus, jumped out, and while his interested passengers looked on, drove the cat away. Then he captured the penguin, which was quite dry and tame, and handed it over, to the police, who looked after it while inquiries were made. The penguin is now well fed and safely housed in the penguin enclosure at the zoo.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.: 1861 – 1954) Thu 2 Apr 1936

St. Kilda’s Wandering Penguin Dead

The crested penguin which wandered around St. Kilda for several days, having escaped from Mr J. A. Kershaw’s home grounds in Wrexham Road, has died. Although perfectly at home, the little wanderer refused all the many kinds of food offered to it. Even forced feeding failed to save its life. The specimen has been preserved and is now at the National Museum.


Address: Pier Rd, St Kilda VIC 3182

Web: http://stkildapenguins.com.au

This is free to visit

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