A Victorian penguin population that helped inspire the 2015 Australian film Oddball has been decimated by foxes.
About 70 little penguins on Middle Island, 150 metres off the coast of Warrnambool, were found with broken necks by volunteers on Tuesday.
The little penguins were made famous by Oddball, the Maremma dog which spent two weeks on the island in 2006 protecting the penguins from predators.
The Warrnambool City Council’s Facebook page said the Maremma guardian dogs were introduced in a world-first program with the colony beginning to recover over the subsequent decade.
Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network chairman Bruce Campbell says he’s devastated and is pointing the finger at foxes, which previously decimated the colony.
“A lot of the little penguins were killed but not eaten. They had their necks broken.
“It can be (characteristic) of foxes. They can get into a kill frenzy.”
Mr Campbell also said volunteers also found fox faeces on the island.
This led to a permanent penguin protection program and the 2015 film about it starring actor and comedian Shane Jacobsen.
The program helped increase the penguin population from fewer than 10 in 2005 to about 180 before this week’s attack. The dogs visit the island intermittently, leaving their scent to deter predators.
“The dogs are never on the island continuously,” Mr Campbell said.
“So during the breeding season the dogs are taken over … and they might be left there overnight,” he said.
“The news…that a significant number of penguins have been found dead on Middle Island is devastating,” Chair of the Middle Island Project Working Group Dr Anne Wallis said.
“The Maremmas have been down at Stingray Bay…to scent the beach and let any foxes that are in the area know that the dogs are back on patrol for the season.
“The penguin colony is fragile, it needs protection and constant monitoring. The maremma dogs are the best tool we have to provide that protection,” she said.