A swarm of Krill. Photo taken off of Wikipedia Commons. Picture was taken by Jamie Hall in the Gulf of the Farallones.Little blue penguins are seabirds, therefore their nutrition relies heavily on marine life near their habitats. Their primary source of nutrition comes from a variety of small fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans (Costa et al. 1986) and in some areas have a krill-rich diet (Thomas et al. 2013). Anchovies are the most popular in their diet composition due to the fact they are around all year (Chiaradia et al. 2012). Little blue penguins acquire their food by foraging at sea for themselves and their young (Stull, 2005, Costa et al. 1986). The size of the colony at a specific area can impact the diversity of diet composition (Chiaradia et al. 2012).

Anchovies belong to the Engraulidae family, which consists of small salt-water forage fish. They contain a very high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are very good for the heart. They also contain high levels of protein and are a rich source of vitamins especially Vitamin E and D. Also, anchovies are rated better than bigger fish because they contain less heavy metal like mercury and lead. Their size ranges from 2cm to 40 cm making them an easy and nutritional catch for the little blue penguins (Benefits of Anchovy, 2013). Krill, who belong to the Euphausiaceae family, are high in fluoride content which helps strengthen the bones of the penguins (Thomas et al. 2013).

School of anchovies. Photo was taken from Wikipedia Commons

In a study done on two colonies of penguins that share some foraging land, it was found that the larger colony had more variety in their diet, which included krill, arrow squid, and larger sized anchovies. The large colony in this study is located on Phillip Island and the smaller colony is on St Kilda, Australia. Despite the fact that these two colonies are only 70 km apart, the Phillip Island penguins still maintain similar nutritional value to the St Kilda colony even though they have a clear advantage with a larger colony size and more variety in their diet composition (Chiaradia et al. 2012). It is uncertain whether the variety in the diet between these two colonies is due to population competition, competition with other species, or if it is due to the foraging area differences. This is significant because lack of food is a major factor to the survival of little blue penguins; starvation is the leading factor to why adult little blue penguins die (McCutcheon et al. 2010). The higher number of individuals in a single colony increases that colony’s chances of survival especially when in competition with another colony. A crayfish. Photo was taken off of Wikipedia Commons

As mentioned before, little blue penguins acquire their food and food for their young through foraging at sea (Stull, 2005, Costa et al. 1986). They can dive to average depths of 10 to 20 meters for up to an average of 24 seconds. Most foraging occurs within 25 kilometers from the coast, however, longer trips can be up to 75 kilometers from the coast. The little blue penguin can travel at an average speed of 6 kilometers per hour (MarineBio, 2013). Longer foraging trips take place during the winter season due to the higher risk of mortality from starvation (McCutcheon et al. 2010).

Little blue penguins interacting in zoo exhibit in Australia. Photo was taken from Wikipedia Commons

Now that you know how the blue penguin attains energy, see how they use it to reproduce!

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