Penguin’s life saved after fascinating journey across the Tasman

18 September 2019

A penguin hailing from the shores of New Zealand, and with an appetite for a holiday, has an incredible story to tell after travelling an astonishing 2,500km across the Tasman to Melbourne.

Fiordland Penguin undergoes veterinary treatment at Melbourne Zoo
Fiordland Penguin undergoes veterinary treatment at Melbourne Zoo

The Fiordland penguin was rescued by Melbourne Zoo’s Marine Response Unit (MRU) at Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road after it was found underweight and struggling after its long journey. The penguin was promptly brought back to Melbourne Zoo to be treated by the Zoo’s expert veterinary team.

The penguin was monitored for several weeks whilst undergoing a rehabilitation and recovery program at Melbourne Zoo and Phillip Island Nature Parks, before being successfully released back into the wild.

The inquisitive Fiordland penguin is quite the explorer - 2,500km of travel is the equivalent distance between the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Colosseum, the Melbourne Cricket Ground to Uluru, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Eiffel Tower and back again.

Melbourne Zoo’s Head of Veterinary Services, Dr Michael Lynch, said the penguin faced a few hurdles during its recovery, but had made a successful return to health.

“The penguin was really underweight when it came in, so we had to address its fluid balance and then gradually introduce it to food and give it vitamin support,” Dr Lynch said. “Over time it began to put on weight again. We then started to reintroduce it to water when it was strong enough to swim to help build up some muscle.”

The inquisitive Fiordland penguin is quite the explorer - 2,500km of travel is the equivalent distance between the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Colosseum, the Melbourne Cricket Ground to Uluru, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Eiffel Tower and back again.

Once the penguin had recovered at Melbourne Zoo, it was taken to Phillip Island Nature Parks for the final stages of its rehabilitation and eventual release.

“Here at Melbourne Zoo we perform veterinary care for marine wildlife in need like penguins and sea birds,” Dr Lynch said. “Once the animal reaches an advanced point in its rehabilitation, we collaborate with partners such as Phillip Island Nature Parks for the final stages of recovery to nurse marine wildlife to full fitness for release.”

Phillip Island Nature Parks Research Director, Dr Peter Dann, said ”This rescue and rehabilitation are particularly significant as Fiordland penguins are classified by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as threatened, and it is estimated that only 4,400 – 5,600 individuals remain.”

The Fiordland Penguin needed build up strength and muscle with monitored swimming sessions
The Fiordland Penguin needed build up strength and muscle with monitored swimming sessions

”The Wildlife Clinic here on Phillip Island is purpose built to be able to care for seabirds and a wide range of other native animals, so we were pleased to have the opportunity to care for this wanderer. Last year we cared for over 538 animals in the clinic from 66 different species, and this penguin probably travelled further than any of our other patients to get here.”

“After steadily increasing its weight, we undertook significant swim testing to ensure it was not only waterproof, but able to make its way back from where it came. It is always especially heartening when we are able to release a healthy animal back into its natural environment.” 

Fiordland Penguin is released (Credit - Phillip Island Nature Parks)
Fiordland Penguin is released back into the wild (Credit - Phillip Island Nature Parks)

Dr Lynch said it wasn’t clear why the penguin travelled through the Tasman to Australia, but was hopeful it would find its way back to New Zealand.

“Our aim was to help bring the penguin back to an equal state of health, just like any other wild Fiordland, thereby giving it an equal chance of getting home,” Dr Lynch said. “We don’t fully understand the factors for a Fiordland swimming to the Victorian coast, but the species’ natural behaviour is to forage for food over long distances.”

“It’s a tough life out there in the ocean, but we’re hopeful this penguin will find its way back to New Zealand and eventually breed. We’ve given it every chance to do so.”

Victorians who see injured or distressed marine wildlife are encouraged to contact the Melbourne Zoo Marine Response Unit (MRU) on 1300 245 678.