By Gus Goswell
ABC News Online,
Researchers from Australia, France and Japan have published a study showing penguins do not find fish and other small prey as easily when heavy storms disrupt oceans and this affects breeding success.
Scientists say Phillip Island's penguins are hatching smaller chicks, as changing weather conditions caused by climate change disrupt their normal feeding patterns.
Dr Akiko Kato from the National Institute of Polar Research in Japan says the penguins helped gather information for the study.
"The research was conducted using miniature computers that were mounted on the backs of penguins to record information about when they were searching for food or chasing prey at particular depths and water temperatures," he said.
Dr Yan Ropert-Coudert from France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique says researchers used that data to chart changes in penguin feeding patterns in the Bass Strait.
"We have found that penguins prefer to search for food in a specific layer in the ocean between two sections with different temperatures," he said.
"When weather conditions are extreme, such as during heavy storms, the water mixes and then this layer is not present, causing penguins to work harder to find food.
Dr Andre Chiaradia from Phillip Island Nature Parks says there is a direct link between these changes, and the health of the penguin population.
"In the years when the water column is really mixed, the penguins they don't breed very well, so they produce lighter chicks."
Dr Chiaradia says penguins are a good indicator of the health of other ocean predators, because they dive deep to find food.
"In the future, with those changes in the ecosystem, food is going to be harder to find for the predators. It has to be seen, it has to be investigated, but penguins is giving the first, you know, warnings," he said.