St.Kilda breakwaterSt Kilda Breakwater

In 1986 a proposal to substantially redevelop St Kilda harbour prompted Professor Mike Cullen of Monash University to visit the Breakwater.
The St Kilda Council had offered to commission Mike to provide a report on the penguins.He declined the offer but embarked on a long-term study of the colony.
Between 1986 and 1998 Mike conducted fortnightly trips to St Kilda Breakwater often finishing well after midnight. Always there to help, was Neil Blake from St Kilda council. The Penguin study was the catalyst for the formation of Earthcare St Kilda.

Earthcare members, many students, local residents, and international visitors were inspired by Mike’s commitment and belief that the best solutions are based on good science. The importance of collecting data to support this was paramount. The study has continued since Mike passed away in 2001 and is coordinated by Earthcare St Kilda. The work of Mike Cullen, Neil Blake and Earthcare St Kilda has had a major influence on the management of the breakwater and the neighbouring foreshore.


The St Kilda Penguin year finishes in April, by this time the adults have finished moulting and the chicks have all fledged. During May and June the research team looks at the accumulated data for the penguin year, May to April, and produces a report on the year’s activities. The data for the tracked penguins will be updated. Sometimes we microchip a penguin and never see it again, sometimes we do not see a penguin for many years.

An important component of the penguin survey is to accurately locate penguins along the 400 metre long breakwater, whether they be captured for analysis or simply sighted and recorded. The position of a penguin along the breakwater is indicated by letters painted on the rocks spaced exactly 20 metres apart.

Current Breakwater location map

To further identify the location of the penguin the outer seaward side of the breakwater is location 1, the path along the top2, and the inside wall has three levels 3,4 and5. If the penguin is located in the water it is recorded as level 6. Thus a penguin could be found at A.6.3 or R.1.5. The original lettering system was from the position of the old gate to the end of the breakwater but as the colony expanded into the area from the old gate to the kiosk the current lettering had to be created.The alphabet was changed to lower case from the kiosk to the position of the old gate and upper case letters were used from the old gate to the end of the breakwater.To make things easier on the computer all lower case letters have a z preceding them. A penguin found near the kiosk could have a location like zh.5.1

Original breakwater map used before the year 2000

7 thoughts on “Breakwater

  1. I first saw the penguins on 10 December 1967, watching the second series of Coast Australia (I returned to England in 1969) last week I got the impression that they could not survive in urban areas eg the Phillip Island removal of residents.
    I am so pleased to hear they are still alive and well. I wish your project every success.
    Best wishes
    Andy Strouthous

  2. I think they have got it wrong on Coast. They most definitely can survive extremely well alongside people. That’s as long as they are not interfered with. Ours are perfectly happy with the constant public attention in the public area….that’s as long as the public are sensible and do not try to pick them up or interfere with their nest or worse…. At Phillip Island the public were removed merely to make the area into a wildlife sanctuary.

  3. Maybe the difference between St Kilda and Phillip Island is the breakwater? The Penguins I saw didnt leave the breakwater, but according to Coast the Phillip Island ones do come up the beach.
    Do the St Kilda ones leave the breakwater for the beach?

  4. Hey there,
    I was on St Kilda beach last night around midnight, I’m not sure if I was near the breakwater or not but I walked to the end of a small pier and there was a curved wall of wooden planks which one had a gap, I noticed a roundish shape in the gap and it was moving, I didn’t have a light on me so I could get a clear look but it sort of swaddled and jumped into the water after a minute, I was wondering if this was possibly a baby penguin? it was quite small, looked around 10cm in height. I looked up today if there is penguins around st Kilda and found you guys so I thought I’d ask. I don’t know where exactly it was though sorry, near the public boardwalk and on the opposite end to Luna Park.

  5. I was viewing the penguins on Saturday 7th October 2017 & I was actually shocked that there were people fishing off the very rocks the penguins reside on.
    I approached an official who then approached the fishermen….I was appalled to hear the fishermen abused the official supervisor, who politely ask them to move onto the pier area where all the other fishermen were.
    Also, these people were wearing bright white lights on their heads which can cause blindness to the penguins.
    I didn’t think there was fishing allowed from the rocks, there were 6-8 people fishing….
    There should be clear signage that no fishing allowed where the penguins reside.

    Other than that, I had such a great time seeing these creatures up close & so close to the city area.
    I will be visiting again soon & hope to see no fishermen on the pier again.

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