Support Our Local Penguins
In the year 2000 B.N. (Before Now), while on a trip to Australia, I went on an Ecotour to see the Little Penguins on Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia. The story, according to our inadvertently hilarious and super-animated bus driver, is that the penguins on this island are of interest to researchers worldwide because they are the world’s smallest penguins and also because they have this ritual of group survival tailored to their environment and which is quite beautiful in its own, “I got your back”, way. To me the phrase, “I got your back”, is among the most beautiful things a person can say to another. I have heard it a lot lately. And because it makes me feel so special and safe and secure, I have taken to reiterating the sentiment to the people I love. I know… awwwwww.
Anyway – formerly they were called the “Fairy Penguins” but then some group objected to the possible implications of that (as if the penguins might be assumed to be gay and thus be discriminated against? It’s rough in the wild) and the name was formally changed. I guess it’s nice that people were concerned enough about the little feelings and little reputations of the Little Penguins to take steps to protect them from discrimination, (I imagine this group going to address the Little Penguins and saying, “You, you and you; I got your back, all of you”) but the name “Fairy Penguins” seems so sweet and magical, whereas, “Little Penguins”, seems more of a descriptive term than a formal name.
To see the now-politically-correctly-named penguins, I took a bus from Melbourne which I think I recall took a few hours. The penguin parade starts at dusk so the trip is scheduled around this. No cameras are allowed within the penguin sanctuary and we were advised to dress warmly as it got mighty chilly on the island after dark. When I went to the appointed bus place, layered up with every t-shirt and sweatshirt I had packed for this trip, there was a line of 6 buses and the first 4 were full. As I boarded the 5th bus I heard someone yell, “Mo, over here!”. Imagine my surprise when I saw my first therapist from kindergarten! Well, it wasn’t her so stop imagining that surprise – but, in a crazy coincidence, it was a woman from Cape Cod that I had met the week before on a trip to Apollo Bay and the famous Bell’s Beach (both pictured above) where the movie, “Point Break”, with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze was filmed. I think it won Oscars for best drama or something. It was like, “The English Patient”, but with surfers and no bandages or language barriers. The bus got us to the island an hour and half before dusk so we were instructed to amuse ourselves for a while and that we’d not be allowed in the sanctuary till the appointed time. So my new friend from Cape Cod suggested we get a bottle of wine at a store and takeout seafood from a little bistro and then make a sunset picnic on the beach. We had a hilarious picnic in which we took turns trying to do the most spot-on imitation of the bus driver who said things in a funny, and inexplicably squeaky way, with a funny, not-like-the-other-Australians accent. When he pointed out scenic things along the way he’d say, “Now you might (<-squeak) like to to get an identity (<-double squeak) of that”, and point to said scenic thing. He’d sort of gesture wildly while he talked and was quite theatrical and since we were sitting in the first row we noticed that he watched his own reflection in the windshield while he gestured theatrically and drove. He was the best tour guide ever. I got really good at my impersonation of him after a few glasses of wine and I won a medal and a keychain. Although the keychain was broken and I lost the imaginary medal.
So we got to the island and were allowed to take some pictures of the rest of the island before entering the actual sanctuary.
We all huddled on the beach and no one was allowed to say a word. There was a lot of stern peer-shushing. Some people had brought along the bedspreads from their hotels to stay warm so there were lots of huddled masses in bad synthetic patterns. I wished I had thought of that. Just after dusk we started to notice bobbing things in the surf and the whole crowd went wild, albeit silently. The penguins were coming back from their daily fishing expedition. But, until they were all accounted for in the surf they just stayed there and bobbed and the number of bobbing things and suspense began to build. Once all of the Little Penguins were assembled there was some penguin signal we could not discern and then, all of a sudden, all the penguins ran out of the water (pell mell) and made a mad dash across the beach and up the hill to their little homes. It was beautiful. I think I cried.
Why do they do this?
Because they are safer from usual penguin prey such as hawks and foxes if they run as a unit. It’s about survival. It’s about, “got your back”. I think I cried twice. I wonder if they encounter less prey since the name change.
But all this was really just a prelude to a public service announcement so read on…
Help Penguins get a head!