The Beatles of the Sea


Friday, 27 January, 2017

Melbourne, Australia

It seems that every blog I write these days is about another species of animal that we have encountered – but, I can’t help it – it’s just all so exciting to a boy from Leeds. To me, living in Australia is like living in a wildlife documentary. The animal collection is a completely different ball game.

I remember seeing a fox rooting through some bins once when I was a really young kid and being in absolute shock. I believed that it must have escaped from South America or something – that’s how unfamiliar I was with wildlife as a British child.

I recollect being devastated that the smartphone hadn’t been invented at the time – without pictorial evidence, I was certain that such an unbelievable sighting would only face ridicule. I even envisioned the news headline that I was going to be missing out on.

“Genius boy discovers hitchhiking South American fox in Leeds.”

I can’t really recall the reaction of the people I told – perhaps the hitchhiking South American fox is now a bit of an urban legend, much like the Loch Ness Monster, and thousands of people go to Leeds every year to see if they can spot it.

Obviously I later grew up to discover that Leeds is actually basically the wildlife capital of the world – the place has hedgehogs, squirrels and swans. Australia can show me all the emus and koalas it wants, but can it show me a hedgehog? Nah, mate.

Anyway, let’s keep things moving – this week we went penguin spotting.

Many fairy penguins live among the cracks in the rocks at Melbourne’s St Kilda beach – so, we decided to go and disturb them.

The birds will return home after sunset every evening as a happy, clappy, group of tourists watch with glee from the pier – I reckon having a smiley faced audience greet them each time they go home must inflate their egos.

We try to keep our hedgehogs grounded in Leeds.

We stupidly arrived as early as six o’clock, while the penguins didn’t reach the pier until around ten – but, that was more on us than them, we were clearly just a bit too keen.

We scanned the area with a fine-tooth comb as we waited, and much to our surprise, we did manage to see a little penguin huddled up against the rocks. I was curious as to why it didn’t set out on its daily swim with the others. So, I did a bit of research.

I wanted to believe that it was some sort of warrior penguin that puts its life on the line day in day out to fight off all trespassers – but, the internet instantly stomped on that dream and declared that it actually probably just couldn’t be arsed with the swim that day and pulled a sicky.

To be honest, if it was a warrior, it’d need to be pretty bloody brave. These things are tiny – I’d estimate around thirty centimeters in height. There are supermarkets that sell cucumbers bigger than that. You’d have to be pretty gutsy to try and defend a territory when you’re smaller than a cucumber.

This blog is going to a weird place – let’s get back on track.

The sun went down around eight, which is when we all – including the volunteers with the torches – expected the rest of the little buggers to get to us. However, they were nowhere to be seen. All the while, the sea breeze was getting colder and the crowd slowly began dispersing – particularly those with irritable children.

Talking of kids, I found my new hero while waiting around on that pier – everybody else, however, absolutely hated him for the exact reasons I commended him. The lad was probably about nine years old and played ‘the boy who cried wolf’ act masterfully.

The kid saw a restless, desperate crowd and thought let’s have a bit of fun with this. He screamed, “Wow, Mum. I see three penguins.” As he started jumping and pointing to the sea.

The whole audience collectively made a hopeful gasp, before looking in the direction his finger told them to. He’d continue to point for a minute or two, as those around him were desperately scanning the water to spot what he was seeing.

He’d then announce, with a smile, that it was a mistake and he was actually looking at some rocks – which, of course, was greeted by a chorus of angry groans.

He actually played that card twice and suckered most of the crowd in on both occasions.

I couldn’t show my appreciation at the time because the angry mob would have had me by the throat – and sadly, the warrior penguin wasn’t there for my protection – however, I hope that one day the boy reads this and knows that there was one person in that crowd that had a lot of appreciation for his act.

You were hilarious, kid – take a bow.

He wasn’t the only one that had the mob up in arms either. I thought somebody was going to elbow drop this poor little water rat that kept going out for a swim close to the pier – the poor gits only crime was having black and white hair, thus, vaguely resembling a small penguin in the dark.

We’re generally not a very patient bunch us humans, are we? We’ll even go as far to heckle a bloody rat because it hasn’t dyed its roots recently – I’m not a massive rat fan, but it can’t really help not being a penguin.

Thank God a group of nuns didn’t decide to wander over to the pier that evening, the penguin looking sisters would have been body slammed onto the rocks by an angry dad that had just simply had enough of all the imitators.


Although, I must admit, I too was starting to get concerned.

The divas were running two hours late. Naturally, I was getting worried they’d neglected their number one duty of catering to a bunch of humans that want to take photos and say ‘awww’.

Then just after ten, ‘The Beatles of The Sea’ finally decided to make an appearance. They kicked off their set with ‘I Am the Walrus’ presumably just to screw with everyone. They knew they could do whatever they wanted, they were the stars.

The crowd went bananas.

Everybody had completely forgotten about the long wait, the cold weather, the hilarious boy and the attention seeking rat. The penguins were in town and those that had remained patient were delighted – the sounds of ‘awwww, look, wow, so cute, awwww’ were deafening.

It also turns out that fairy penguins are all cucumber height.

They waddled along the rocks, found their holes and started to settle into their spots. I must admit, it was pretty cool to see them comfortably settling into their homes.

In fact, seeing wild penguins probably even equals witnessing that hitchhiker South American fox all those years ago.

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