Four northern rockhopper penguins have been released in waters off Augusta, after surprising wildlife officers and beach goers with a visit to the South West.
The threatened species usually live on islands close to Antarctica, more than three thousand kilometres south west of Western Australia.
While there are no resident populations on the mainland or inshore islands of Australia, Pia Courtis from the Parks and Wildlife Service said northern rockhopper penguins have been recorded visiting our beaches during the summer months.
“They are usually looking for refuge during their three-week annual moult period, during which time they are unable to enter the water and usually do not feed,” she said.
In the past year, 10 rockhopper penguins have been found on beaches between Jurien Bay and Augusta.
The penguins were assessed and cared for by experienced wildlife rehabilitators in the South West, as well as at Perth Zoo, in order to complete their moulting process in a safe environment.
“During the moulting period, the penguins are quite vulnerable to injury and predation from dogs and foxes, which is why some of them have been placed into temporary care to ensure their safety,” she said.
“We are really happy with the progress they have made so far and are confident that four are ready to make their way home.”
The four penguins were released as a group offshore near Augusta by Parks and Wildlife Service staff and a local wildlife rehabilitator, with assistance from the Department of Transport.
“We are expecting them to head to known feeding grounds to feed on krill, squid and octopus for the winter months, before returning to breeding islands in the Indian and South Atlantic ocean in spring,” Ms Courtis said.
The remaining penguins will continue to receive care until they are ready to be released.
The department thanked Western Australian Seabird Rescue and FAWNA volunteers for their assistance housing and feeding the penguins during their vulnerable moulting period.
People can report sick, injured, orphaned or displaced wildlife to the Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055.