Foraging behaviour of little penguins in a changing Bass Strait

Application for Scientific Permit – Available for Public Comment 

Public comment on the following application for a Scientific Research (Fauna) Permit is open until 24 November 2021. 

Applicant: IMAS, University of Tasmania

Species/Taxon: Little penguin (Eudyptula minor)

Location: Doctor’s Rocks (Conservation Area), Fisher Island (Conservation Area)

Title of research: Foraging behaviour of little penguins in a changing Bass Strait

Aim of project:
(1) Determine the foraging range and habitat use of breeding little penguins living in the Bass Strait
(2) Identify whether little penguin foraging trip parameters (e.g., duration, distance) differ between populations occupying different areas of the Bass Strait
(3) Investigate the linkages between aspects of individual health and foraging behaviour

Tasmania is considered a ‘stronghold’ for little penguins, c.60% of the total population is thought to occupy the waters of Bass Strait. However, very little is known about the currently ecology and status of local populations, with evidence for declines across multiple colonies, due to increasing and interacting anthropogenic threats. Marine ecosystems on the east-coast of Tasmania are undergoing rapid changes due to the southerly extension of the East Australian Current (EAC), which brings warm water to the coast over summer. This has caused extreme events such as marine heatwaves, which can have long-term effects on ecosystem structure and function. Pressures caused by the EAC extension occur alongside other anthropogenic influences such as fishery pressure, which may be affecting prey availability for little penguins. There is little understanding about how these rapid ecosystem changes could be affecting little penguins. Knowledge on foraging movements is a first step towards defining relationships between little penguin behaviour and habitat use, and oceanographic change. Fisher Island (North-East) and Doctors Rocks (North-West) provide a comparison between sites affected and unaffected by the EAC extension. Tracking birds from these sites is a necessary step towards understanding how the EAC extension may be affecting the foraging conditions of little penguins in Tasmania. Understanding how marine predators such as little penguins, use the Bass Strait can contribute to the appropriate zoning for offshore developments.

Maximum likely numbers of individuals involved: A maximum of 120 individuals will be involved across two sites (60 per site).

Activities undertaken and methods:
Individuals will be captured by hand and morphometric measurements will be collected, only birds weighing >850g will be selected for device instrumentation. Waterproof GPS loggers (weighing 17g) will be attached to feathers on the bird’s back using waterproof Tesa tape. Devices will be retrieved once the bird is detected back in the burrow by holding the individual in a cloth bag and efficiently removing the device. Additionally, in conjunction with permit# 21015 a blood sample (<0.5mL) will be taken from individuals from Doctor’s Rocks upon device removal to link foraging behaviour with individual health. 

Fate of animals: 
Individuals will be returned to their burrow to resume normal behaviours.

Likely impact on species involved (including any by-catch):
It is expected that proposed procedures will have minimal short-term stress impacts through handling and capture disturbance. Individuals are expected to recover fully upon completion of handling and release. No chronic or long-term impacts are expected from procedures.  


Scientific Research Permits
Natural and Cultural Heritage
Level 5, 134 Macquarie Street
Hobart TAS 7000

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