First samples

It has been a while… but I have not been idle.

Little Penguin under Manly Wharf

Little Penguin under Manly Wharf
Photo: Petra Vogel

In early September, I finally went to Manly to get my first wild penguin DNA samples. The contractor who monitors the Little Penguin colony at Manly for the National Park and Wildlife Service showed me where the burrows and nest boxes are located and caught a good number of birds for me. I was therefore able to collect 15 samples on the first trip, which was much more than either of us expected. I also got 20 samples from Five Islands, which a ranger from the NPWS has collected for me. That brings me up to 35 samples, which is exactly 10% of the total sample size I am aiming at!

Later in September, I went to my first scientific conference at Darwin in the NT, where I presented my project to an audience of conservation biologists. I got some good feedback and learned a lot about other people’s work, including the Places for Penguins project in NZ. It turned out that the situation for the penguins at Wellington seems quite similar to the ones in Sydney, with a mainland colony that is threatened by feral predators and a safer island colony nearby. Next year, I am hoping to go there to sample Little Penguin DNA from New Zealand and extend my study over the whole distribution range of those birds.

So what next?

At the moment, I am getting ready to spend an extended weekend on Bowen Island in Jervis Bay, to capture and mark 50-100 penguins, of which I will also take a genetic sample. I hope they are ready for me and my assistant!


Jervis Bay

Last Friday, we  went on an exciting trip to Jervis Bay to meet the Park Services Manager of Booderee National Park, Dr Martin Fortescue. He has been working in the park for more than 25 years and intensively studied Little Penguins on Bowen Island between 1987 and 1997. He seems to know everything about the island and its penguin population, which will make my work so much easier! Unfortunately, we did not make it out to the island on that day, but got lots of detailed information anyway.

We stayed in Jervis Bay for the weekend, which was great, too. It allowed us to see quite a bit of Booderee National Park, including a 15km hike around St George’s Head, where we saw some seals relaxing in the water, a trip to the old lighthouse and a walk at Cave Beach, where we spotted our first Australian snake:

A Diamond Python (Morelia spilota) at Ryans Swamp near Cave Beach, Booderee National Park

Penguins in Manly

Saturday was a Penguin Day.

Alice from the Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary invited me to come and have a look at their new penguin exhibit at the former Oceanworld in Manly, and to tell her about my project. We talked for almost an hour and the timing could not have been better, because I was right on time to also enjoy the penguin feeding and keeper talk at 2:30pm. All in all, the penguins seem to be settling in very well in their new home and I will keep my fingers crossed for a successful breeding season – it would be awesome to see the new colony grow so quickly. I really enjoyed meeting the penguins and Alice, and to exchange experiences.

As if the visit to the SeaLife Sanctuary was not enough, we realised that our timing for the trip back to Circular Quay could not have been better. When we arrived at Manly Wharf just after sunset, the gates to the beach were already closed and the penguin wardens had taken up their position to guard the only remaining Little Penguin burrow at the wharf. When they told us that the breeding pair had not yet returned from sea, we knew we could not leave before finally laying eyes on a Little Penguin in the wild. Although we had to wait for almost an hour before the female returned to the burrow, we were not disappointed. All of a sudden, she appeared out of the water and waddled towards us, before she disappeared again under the jetty. The warden afterwards told us that the male seemed to have stayed behind during the day to improve the burrow, hoping that his efforts would be rewarded by his partner allowing him to mate with her. She could hear their greeting calls and could therefore be sure that both penguins were in the burrow after the female arrived. It was great to see the enthusiasm with which the wardens guard the penguins, night after night, and to see that the penguins in Manly prevail, despite the threats they are facing!

I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of the Little Penguins at Manly and elsewhere 🙂

An Introduction


This is a blog about my research. May I introduce you to the Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor)? It is also known as the blue penguin or fairy penguin. Little Penguins are native Australian sea birds whose populations are in decline and under threat at several locations around Australia including Sydney (which is where my Uni, The University of New South Wales, is situated). The main threats to Little Penguins are related to human impacts such as the introduction of feral predators, invasive weeds, habitat destruction and the effects of climate change. This means that we have a responsibility to investigate which of these threats the penguins are most susceptible to and how we can ameliorate their situation.

Little Penguin at Taronga Zoo in Sydney
Foto: David Vardeh

Now that you’ve met my research subject, I can tell you a bit about myself. My name is Sandra. After I graduated in Biology at the IFM-GEOMAR in Kiel (Germany) last year, I looked for a PhD research topic that involved all steps of scientific work, from coming up with a question via sample and data collection to the analysis of data and publication. My search was quickly successful, although the first step had already been done for me – which leaves me with a lot of field work, lab work and lots of analyses and modelling to be done.

In the coming months, I will visit several offshore islands along the coast of New South Wales to get genetic samples from the penguins. I will then use the DNA samples for genetic analysis to assess dispersal and connectivity between the colonies. This information is vital to conduct a population viability analysis, which tells us how stable the populations are and will help evaluate impacts of different threats and management strategies. Follow me of you would like to read more about my work!