Oct. 17 (UPI) -- A suspected dog attack killed 58 penguins this week on Australia's Tasmania island, sparking calls for penalties and greater dog controls.
An investigation into the deaths of the fairy penguins, also known as little penguins, is underway by the country's Department of Primary Industries, according to Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The penguins are typically about 1-foot tall and weigh fewer than four pounds, and can be found in coastal regions of Australia and New Zealand.
"Clearly, fencing is required, dog owner education is required, and there is a clear need for increased responsibility by dog owners for their pets' actions," Dr. Eric Woehler of BirdLife Tasmania told The Australian. "If that means someone gets fined thousands of dollars as a result of this dog attack, so be it. That would certainly make other dog owners think twice about letting their dogs out overnight. [Existing laws] are never enforced. It's an ongoing issue and as far as I'm aware there's been not a single prosecution this year."
The discovery of penguin carcasses was the second in Tasmania's protected Low Head Conservation Area this year. The birds, the smallest of the penguin species, are a tourist attraction in the area.
"Here we go again, where people who don't understand how precious these animals are, or who don't keep their dogs in at night, are responsible for the death of a precious animal that is really hanging on to its existence on our coastline," Cassy O'Connor of the Tasmania Greens Party. "We do need to have better monitoring of penguin nesting sites, more resources put into parks and wildlife."
O'Connor suggested the installation of closed-circuit television systems in the conservation area. Mayor Bridget Archer of nearby George Town noted that dogs were not permitted in the penguins' habitat.
"That area is off limits for dogs," Archer said. "It's simply not acceptable for dogs to be in that area at all."
Data from the 1980s, the latest available information, indicate that about 1,000 breeding pairs of fairy penguins live in the area.