Melbourne: Most little penguins search for food in groups, and even synchronise their underwater movements during foraging trips, according to a new study.
Little penguins are the smallest penguin species and they live exclusively in southern Australia, New Zealand, and the Chatham Islands, but spend most of their lives at sea in search of food.
Not much is known about group foraging behaviour in seabirds due to the difficulty in observing their remote feeding grounds.
To better understand this behaviour, scientists Maud Berlincourt and John Arnould from Deakin University in Australia used GPS-derived location and diving data to track at-sea foraging associations of little penguins during breeding season.
Researchers gathered 84 separate foraging tracks and then categorised individual penguin associations into one of three groups: not associating with other penguins; associating when departing from or returning to the colony; or at sea when travelling or diving, including synchronised dives.
The authors found that 70 per cent of little penguins` foraging tracks were in association with other penguins, 50 per cent of individuals dove while associating with other penguins, and 40 per cent exhibited synchronous diving.
These behaviours suggest little penguins forage in groups, may synchronise their underwater movements, and potentially cooperate to concentrate their small-schooling prey.
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.