Blue penguins forage in groups to herd prey

Blue penguins forage in groups, potentially synchronising their underwater movements to herd prey, Australian research suggests.

Little is known about the at-sea distributions of New Zealand penguins, but a study by Deakin University has uncovered nearly half the little penguins (blue penguins) tracked in a study dived with others and nearly 40% exhibited signs of synchronised diving.

''These behaviours suggest little penguins forage in groups, could synchronise their underwater movements and potentially co-operate to concentrate their small schooling prey,'' scientist Maud Berlincourt said.

Blue penguins are the smallest penguin species and colonies are found on New Zealand's coast, including at Oamaru and Otago Peninsula, as well as in southern Australia.

While there was a lack of data about Otago's blue penguins' movements, they were the same species, she said.

''It is likely that some individuals might also associate during their trip at sea.''

This study focused on blue penguins from the London Bridge breeding colony in southeastern Australia.

The aim was to find out how much the penguins associated with each other at sea and how that was linked to foraging.

To do that, the scientists put GPS data loggers on adult breeding penguins and retrieved them after the birds returned from the sea.

The data showed different degrees of association between birds as some departed the colony together and separated, while others spent time at sea together regardless of whether they left together.

More research needed to be done to confirm these foraging patterns, she said.

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