School Excursion Options and Bookings
Penguin Island and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park provide a fantastic natural teaching base for a diversity of primary and secondary excursions. Rockingham Wild Encounters in partnership with the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) offer the following activities at heavily discounted prices that are available exclusively to WA schools visiting Monday to Fridays during the school term. Pengos Café can also provide School Lunch Options for your visit.
Please note it is your schools responsibility to determine suitable supervisory ratios of adults to students for the activities below. To assist with meeting your supervision plan we offer free entry for adult supervisors according to the following ratios:
Kindy to Year 3- 1 free adult supervisor: 5 students
Year 4- Year 12- 1 free adult supervisor: 10 students
Additional adults are welcome and charged at student rates.
All school excursions commence with a short 5 minute ferry ride to Penguin Island at a time that suits your group. Depending on your schedule and budget, you can include a glass bottom boat or Adventure Cruise or include a guided walk of Penguin Island with a DPaW ranger. A visit to the Discovery Centre to see the little penguins is always a highlight for students of all ages. Just let us know your requirements in the School Excursion Enquiry Form below.
Enjoy a 20 minute viewing and interpretive session with the Little Penguins at the Discovery Centre hosted by a DPaW ranger. You will learn all about the biology, natural behaviours, habitat and conservation of these fascinating creatures. Students will have the opportunity to ask the ranger questions at the end of the penguin feeding. A fun and interesting activity for students of all ages.
A 45 minute guided walk of Penguin Island hosted by a DPaW Island Ranger. The topics covered can be tailored to suit your subject requirements. Your Island Ranger is a wealth of information on the local wildlife, history, geology and vegetation. For younger groups the ranger may reduce the duration of the walk and instead introduce students to the ‘sea treasures’ of the island’s touch tables. If there is a certain subject you are focusing on please let us know in advance.
A 45 minute cruise on the crystal clear waters of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park onboard our glass bottom boat. Your skipper has a wealth of knowledge on all the creatures that you will encounter on this cruise including the Sea Lions at Seal Island. Our crew will ensure that the cruise is entertaining, educational and exciting!
An exciting 60 minute cruise to see wild dolphins before returning through the marine park to see the sea lions, ospreys nest, pelican rookery and any other wildlife viewing opportunities that present themselves on the day. This cruise is onboard our safe, fast and exciting boat purpose built for wildlife viewing.
This 60 minute cruise on our glass bottom boat takes in Penguin, Seal & Bird Islands and takes advantage of the best wildlife spotting opportunities of the day. Wild dolphins, rare Australian sea lions, pelican rookeries and nesting ospreys are regularly sighted and our friendly crew will get you right amongst the action!
Please submit the School Excursions Enquiry Form below and we’ll get back to you within 48 hours with a suggested itinerary and quote or please Contact Us to speak with one of our team.
School excursions to Penguin Island are facilitated by the state governments Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and Rockingham Wild Encounters. DPaW is responsible for the overall management of Penguin Island and The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. The school activities which fall under their responsibility include The Penguin Experience Discovery Centre and Penguin Island Waddle.
Rockingham Wild Encounters operates the ferry service (which all students use to access the island) and vessels onboard which the Penguin & Sea Lion Cruise, Penguin Island Wildlife Cruise and Dolphin, Penguin & Sea Lion Adventure Cruises are conducted. The vessels operate within the e- class zone of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park under two Commercial Operations Licenses issued by DPaW. Rockingham Wild Encounters holds Ecoplus Accreditation with the National Tourism Accreditation Program which is your peace of mind that we are dedicated to providing high quality and sustainable services.
The following information has been provided to assist with your planning:
We suggest you take some time to look over our Penguin Island Familiarisation Map. It features Emergency Planning locations, first aid and communication posts and all the islands points of interest to assist with your planning.
Transport arrangements are the responsibility of the school. There is a set down bay just outside of our base in Shoalwater where coaches can drop students off to avoid walking through the car park. Coach parking bays are located in in the northern end of the carpark. On arrival, students can assemble on the grassed areas to the south and west of the building. There are public toilets, a playground and an outdoor shower located on the southern side of the building. Please note in wet weather, students should stay on the bus or assemble under the veranda on the north eastern side of the building until it’s time to board the ferry.
The teacher in charge is required to check in at our front counter to finalize passenger numbers and payments. They will be issued with a ticket which will need to be shown to gain entry to the ferry and activities. Our ticketing staff will make a call over the public address system to advise when it is time for your group to commence boarding. Your school group can follow the footpath behind our shop, through the gazebo and onto the jetty. Our staff will be manning the gangway onto the vessel and supervising boarding.
There are a network of timber boardwalks from the Penguin Island jetty that lead to the Discovery Centre and all the main points of interest around the island. There is a shaded, grassed picnic area in front of the Discovery Centre with picnic tables ideal for leaving bags and meal breaks. Environmentally friendly public toilets are located a short 1 minute walk away along the boardwalk. The safest swimming beach is located directly in front of the picnic area- it’s shallow and protected from the sea breeze.
When making your away around the island, it’s important that students stay on the boardwalks or beaches to ensure that the vegetation, birds nests and penguin burrows are not disturbed. The Department of Parks and Wildlife also have a ‘No Touch or Take Flora or Fauna Policy’ which all visitors must adhere to by:
At Rockingham Wild Encounters gift shop there is a first aid post including a defib unit and oxygen providing equipment. A public address system is located behind the front counter and can be used to assist with communications in the event of an emergency. An emergency muster point is located at the northern end of the Mersey Point Car Park.
First aid kits including oxygen providing equipment are located onboard all RWE vessels along with lifejackets and all other lifesaving equipment required. All RWE crew are trained in Advanced Resuscitation and renew their qualification annually. They also hold current working with children clearance certificates.
First aid is also available on Penguin Island at the Discovery Centre including a defib unit and oxygen providing equipment. A public address system is located behind the front counter of the Discovery Centre and can be used to assist with communications in the event of an emergency. In the unlikely event that the island needs to be evacuated, students are to assemble on the beach next to the Penguin Island jetty and await further instructions from our crew.
Rockingham Wild Encounters have produced the following student resources based on the excursion activities available:
DPaW have also produced the following publications that contain resources that are applicable to marine parks throughout Western Australia including Penguin Island and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park:
The little penguin is the smallest of the 17 penguin species and is the only one that nests along Australia's mainland coast. These flightless seabirds are superbly adapted to the marine environment. Their wings have evolved into flippers with which they propel themselves, 'flying' underwater. On land they stand upright, walking or waddling awkwardly on their hind legs. Little penguins have a life expectancy of 6 or 7 years, although some survive for 20 years.
What do they look like?
Little penguins are a bluish-grey colour, with a white underside and throat. They have a black bill, pale pink feet and silvery-grey eyes. The males are slightly bigger than the females, and have a deeper bill and a larger head. Adults stand about 40 centimetres tall and weigh about a kilogram.
Where do they live?
The little penguin occurs along the southern coast of Australia from Fremantle to northern New South Wales. Originally, little penguins were fairly common on the Australian mainland, but these days their colonies are generally restricted to offshore islands. Penguin Island, which is surrounded by the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, is one of the most northern places this species is found. Penguin Island also has the largest known breeding colony in Western Australia, with an estimated 1200 little penguins and 500 to 700 breeding pairs.
What do they eat and how?
Little penguins can swim 8 kilometres per hour and dive as deep as 60 metres to catch pilchards, whitebait and other small fish. The little penguin colony on Penguin Island eats more than 100 tonnes of fish every year and may venture up to 200 kilometres from Penguin Island on extended feeding excursions. During breeding they generally feed within 15 kilometres of the island. The shallow coastal waters of Becher Point, just south of Penguin Island in the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, is a very important nursery area for juvenile whitebait, the little penguin's favourite food while rearing its chicks.
Predators and Threats
Predation by introduced animals such as foxes, dogs and cats has had a severe impact on birds nesting on the mainland and colonies are now largely confined to offshore islands. At sea, penguins are vulnerable to hazards such as discarded plastics and fishing line, boat strikes and oil pollution, and are also taken by natural predators like sea lions and sharks. Other impacts include people trampling their nest sites, loss of suitable habitat and destabilisation of fore dunes (which may prevent penguins from accessing nest sites).
The little penguin has up to nine different calls ranging from short, sharp barks when at sea and sharp, snorting yelps when disturbed. Little penguins are excellent swimmers and are able to spend long periods at sea but they generally spend the day at sea and return to their colonies after dark. Breeding and Raising Their Young Penguin courtship is a noisy affair. The birds constantly squabble and squawk over nest sites. They usually nest in burrows and often set up their colonies in sand dune vegetation, but also shelter among rocks and in caves. Little penguins start breeding at around the age of 3 years, but those in the Shoalwater area breed earlier and for longer than those elsewhere. Little penguins lay one or more clutches of two eggs between June and September. Both parents sit on the eggs over a five week period. Two chicks often hatch, but usually only one is raised unless food is abundant. For the first 15 days of its life, one parent will remain with the young chick while the other goes in search of food. After this, the chick is left alone while both parents go fishing. Chicks leave the nest to go to sea once they reach the age of 8 or 9 weeks.
Little penguins are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act. The colony of little penguins on Penguin Island has been given the highest conservation status of the 256 colonies of the little penguin around Australia.
How you can protect the little penguin?
Little penguins are difficult to see in the water and spend 90% of their time in the top 2 metres of the water column. They are often victims of boat strikes so make sure you 'go slow for those below' when boating in the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.
The Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) is one of the rarest species of sea lion in the world and are only found in Western Australia and South Australia. The total population of these animals is estimated at 12,000. They can live up to 25 years of age.
What do they look like?
Sea lions have a blunt dog-like snout and can be recognised as 'eared' seals by their ear flaps. The males (called bulls) may reach up to 3 metres long and weigh up to 350 kilograms. They have chocolate brown fur, with a creamy crown and neck. Females (called cows) are silvery grey above and creamy yellow below, growing up to 1.8 metres long and weighing up to 105 kilograms. Pups are born with chocolate brown fur, which is lost after the first moulting phase.
What do they eat and how?
Australian sea lions head out to sea to hunt for squid, octopus, cuttlefish, fish, small sharks, rock lobsters and even birds. They hunt close to the seafloor and can feed in depths of up to 300 metres!
Predators and Threats
Big sharks, especially great white sharks, will attack and eat sea lions. Other risks include becoming entangled in fishing nets, struck by boats, human disturbance, pollution and overfishing by people. During the nineteenth century, commercial sealing for skins had a major impact on sea lion populations and many colonies were wiped out. In more recent times, the Department of Fisheries has developed a sea lion exclusion device (known as a SLED) to stop sea lion pups entering commercial craypots and drowning. Some sea lions in the Perth area have taken to begging for food from boats which has resulted in an increased mortality from propeller injuries and line entanglements. To combat this issue Rockingham Wild Encounters has developed the Keep Perth’s Dolphins and Sea Lions Project through the Federal Governments Coast and Clean Seas Grant.
Australian sea lions are quite agile on land, they use their front flippers to prop themselves up. They use their back flippers to assist them to ‘walk’ on land. In the water the back flippers act as a rudder to steer. They have a second layer of fur under the top fur layer, and this helps them to keep warm in the cold water, together with a thick layer of fat. They are very social animals, and gather in groups of 10 to 15. They spend time sunbaking on sandy beaches and rocks.
Breeding and Raising their Young
During the breeding season, mature bulls fight for access to females. They become aggressive and territorial, defending their harem of females from other males. Timing of the birth of pups can be year round as the gestation period is 17.5 months. Females give birth to only one pup at a time. Generally they breed again 2 weeks after giving birth but may chose not to for two to three years. Females nurse their young for about a year and defend their pups passionately. Pups have a greater chance of dying in the first six months after birth.
Having been hunted almost to extinction in the past, the Australian sea lion is given special protection by Australian State and Commonwealth Government legislation and is listed as rare by the IUCN (World Conservation Union).
How you can help protect the Australian sea lion?
Admire sea lions from a safe distance of 5 metres on land and 10 metres in the water. During the breeding season the females defend their pups vigorously and will attack people if they approach, so keep off islands where they are breeding. Do not feed sea lions as it is important that they get their own food and don't become dependent on handouts. Take your rubbish home with you - each year some sea lions die a terrible slow death from entanglement and from ingesting plastic and other rubbish. Go slow for those below when you're in a boat, and look out for these playful creatures.
Bottlenose dolphins are actually small whales, and belong to the group known as 'toothed whales'. They are air breathing mammals, so even though they live in the marine environment they must still come to the surface to breathe through the blowhole on top of their heads. The common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) are so named because they have a short rounded snout or 'beak' that resembles a bottle. It is the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin we have a resident population of here in the area.
What do they look like?
Bottlenose dolphins are sleek and streamlined and can travel at speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour. They have a prominent dorsal fin, which can be seen slicing through the water. Bottlenose dolphins vary in size, shape and colour depending on where they are found. In general dolphins have a dark grey back and a light grey belly. This helps to camouflage the animal so when potential predators (such as killer whales or sharks) look up from the deep, the light grey belly blends in with bright surface waters. When seen from above, the grey back blends in with the deep dark waters below. Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphin calves weigh around 20 kilograms at birth and around 70 centimetres long. They will grow up to seven times their original body weight in their first year. The maximum size for a male is a length of 2.7m and weight of 230kg. In this area the females tend to be a little smaller and lighter in colour than the males.
Where do they live?
Bottlenose dolphins live in temperate and tropical seas all over the world. The Indo-Pacific is a sub species of the Common Bottlenose, they are an inshore species that is often seen along the coast, in estuaries and even in rivers.
What do they eat and how?
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphins eat up to 15 kilograms of food per day consisting of a wide variety of fish, squid and octopuses. The offshore form may be able to dive to depths of more than 600 metres to catch food. Dolphins use echolocation for hunting and navigating. The clicking sounds they make travel through the water hitting objects up to 200 metres in front and echoing back to the dolphin, which allows them to work out the size, shape, speed, distance and direction of their prey. Working together as a group, dolphins can trap schools of fish or squid by rounding them up and diving into the middle to feed, swallowing their food whole and head first.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators include killer whales and sharks such as tiger sharks and great white sharks. Other risks include entanglement in fishing nets (trawling, drift and gill nets), habitat destruction and degradation, pollution (organochlorines), disease (Morbillivirus) and illegal killing of dolphins. In some parts of the world bottlenose dolphins are killed for food. It is also possible that the dolphins' key prey species are being fished out, thus reducing the amount of food available to them. In Perth and particularly around Rockingham local dolphins have taken to begging for food from local boats. This has led to an increase in mortality from propeller strikes and fishing line entanglement as well as a reduction in reproductive success.
Males and females only tend to be found together whilst breeding or feeding, it is rare for them to socialize with each other once they are mature. We do not refer to the dolphins here as “pods.” A pod is a stable group, usually a family group that does not change. With this species of dolphin, females are referred to as groups or parties and the males are called alliances. The females are highly social having around 80-100 friends they spend time with over the course of their day/week/month. They are similar to humans with their fission-fusion society, social interactions can last minutes or several hours. Just like in human life these females also spend time alone (with their dependent calf). The alliances are teams of males who work together and do most daily activities as a group. The most important team activity is herding females. Bottlenose dolphins are highly active and can be frequently seen tail slapping, riding on bow waves created by boats, surfing waves or leaping playfully into the air. They will chase one another, roll over each other and carry objects such as seaweed.
Breeding and Raising their Young
Dolphins have many partners over a lifetime and mate all year round. Females begin to breed from about 10 years of age. Calves are born throughout the year, although most are born in spring and summer after a gestation period of 12 months. Calves are born tail first so that they do not drown and their mother quickly pushes them up to the surface for their first breath. The mother and calf will communicate regularly using their signature whistles. The calf will whistle to its mother every time it is hungry and needs milk. In the first few of months the calf will receive milk regularly, every 15 minutes in the first month. The amount of milk and the frequency of the feeds will reduce until the calf is weaned between the ages of 3-6 years old. Researchers have found that the amount of milk the calf receives actually increases again towards the point of weaning as if the calf knows it won’t be allowed it for much longer.
The bottlenose dolphin is common throughout the world's oceans.
How you can protect the bottlenose dolphin?
You can care for them by helping to keep their environment clean. Take your rubbish home, and if you find any floating at sea or on the coast, please pick it up. Bottlenose dolphins often strand, either singly or in small groups. If you find a stranded or entangled dolphin you should report it to the Department of Environment and Conservation. While you are waiting for help to arrive, keep it wet and cool, and keep it shaded so it doesn't get sunburnt, but remember not to obstruct the blowhole, so the dolphin can breathe.
There are seven species of pelicans in the world, all of which are similar in shape and, with one exception, are primarily white in colour. The species commonly found along the Australian coastline is the Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) and is the largest pelican in the world. They may live between ten and possibly 25 years or more.
What do they look like?
Males are larger than females. The stand out feature is the elongated bill with its massive throat pouch. The bill is 40 - 50 cm long and is larger in males than females. Pelicans weigh 4.0 - 6.8 kg and are 1.6 - 1.8 m long. They have large wings and a wingspan of 2.3 - 2.5 m. They have an extremely light skeleton, weighing less than 10% of their total body weight.
Where do they live?
The Australian Pelican is found throughout Australia, Papua New Guinea and western Indonesia, with occasional reports in New Zealand and various western Pacific islands. In Australia it is widespread on freshwater, estuarine and marine wetlands and waterways including lakes, swamps, rivers, coastal islands and shores.
What do they eat and how?
Pelicans mainly eat fish, but they are opportunistic feeders and will eat crustaceans, tadpoles and even turtles. They readily accept 'handouts' from humans, and a number of unusual items have been recorded in their diet. During periods of starvation, pelicans have been reported capturing and eating seagulls and ducklings. The gulls are held under water and drowned before being eaten headfirst. Pelicans will also rob other birds of their prey. The bill and pouch of pelicans play an important role in feeding. The bill is sensitive and this helps locate fish in murky water. It also has a hook at the end of the upper mandible for gripping slippery food items. When food is caught, the pelican manipulates it in its bill until the prey has its head pointing down the pelican's throat. Then with a jerk of the head the pelican swallows the prey. The pouch serves as a short-term collecting organ. Pelicans plunge their bills into the water, using their pouches as nets. Once something is caught, a pelican draws its pouch to its breast. This empties the water and allows the bird to manoeuvre the prey into a swallowing position. The pouch can also serve as a net to catch food thrown by humans, and there are sightings of pelicans drinking by opening their bill to collect rainwater. When fully extended, the bill can hold up to 13 litres.
Australian Pelicans often feed as a cooperative group known as pods, scoops or squadrons. Sometimes these groups are quite large. One group numbered over 1,900 birds. A pod of pelicans works together, driving fish into a concentrated mass using their bills and sometimes by beating their wings. The fish are herded into shallow water or surrounded in ever decreasing circles. Pelicans are highly mobile, searching out suitable areas of water and an adequate supply of food. Pelicans are not capable of sustained flapping flight, but can remain in the air for 24 hours, covering hundreds of kilometres. They are excellent soarers and can use thermals to rise to considerable altitudes. Flight at 1,000m is common, and heights of 3 000 m have been recorded. By moving from one thermal to the next, pelicans can travel long distances with a minimum of effort, reaching air speeds of up to 56 km/hour.
Breeding and Raising Their Young
Pelicans are colonial breeders with up to 40 000 individuals grouping on islands or secluded shores. Breeding may occur at any time of year depending on environmental conditions, particularly rainfall. Breeding begins with courtship. The female leads potential mates (two to eight or more) around the colony. As the males follow her in these walks, they threaten each other while swinging their open bills from side to side trying to attract the female's attention. The males may also pick up small objects, like sticks or dry fish, which they toss in the air and catch again, repeating the sequence several times. Both sexes perform "pouch-rippling" in which they clap their bills shut several times a second and the pouch ripples like a flag in a strong breeze. As the courtship parade progresses, the males drop out one by one. Finally, after pursuits on land, water or in the air, only a single male is left. The female leads him to a potential nest site.
During the courtship period, the bill and pouch of the birds change colour dramatically. The forward half of the pouch becomes bright salmon pink, while the skin of the pouch in the throat region turns chrome yellow. Parts of the top and base of the bill change to cobalt blue, and a black diagonal strip appears from the base to the tip. This colour change is of short duration, the intensity usually subsiding by the time incubation starts. The nest consists of a scrape in the ground prepared by the female. She digs the scrape with her bill and feet, and lines it with any scraps of vegetation or feathers within reach of the nest. Within three days egg-laying begins and between one and three eggs are laid two to three days apart. The eggs are incubated on the parents' feet. Both parents share incubation which lasts between 32 and 35 days.
Pelican chicks communicate with their mothers while still in the egg. They can communicate as to whether they are too hot or cold. They also listen to their parents from the egg - so when they emerge, they have no trouble identifying their parents. The first-hatched chick is substantially larger than its siblings. It receives most of the food and may even attack and kill its nest mates. A newly hatched pelican has a large bill, bulging eyes and skin that looks like small-grained bubble plastic. The skin around the face is mottled with varying degrees of black and the colour of the eyes varies from white to dark brown. This individual variation helps the parents to recognise their chick from hundreds of others. After about a month the chicks leave their nests to form creches of up to 100 birds. They remain in creches for about two months, by the end of which they have learnt to fly and are fairly independent.
The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park is located 50 kilometres south of Perth, adjacent to the City of Rockingham and covers an area of approximately 6658 hectares. The park starts in the south at Point Becher, it extends approximately 3 kilometres offshore and encompasses the chain of limestone rocks and islands (including Penguin Island) that runs parallel with the coastline. It contains the waters of Shoalwater Bay, Warnbro Sound and a small southern section of Cockburn Sound. The northern boundary of the park is located just north of Cape Peron.
The marine park contains a rich diversity and abundance of both marine and terrestrial wildlife. The islands of Shoalwater Bay abound with seabirds, many of which are seldom seen on the mainland. They are important seabird breeding sites. Sixteen species use the islands for courtship, nesting, feeding and roosting. Little penguins breed in burrows on Penguin Island- this colony has been given the highest conservation status of all penguin colonies in Australia. There are also breeding colonies within the Marine Park of silver gulls, fairy terns, bridled terns and Caspian terns. Crested terns are commonly seen, but don't usually breed on the islands.
The cavernous reefs surrounding the islands provide good snorkelling and diving. The reef areas support a variety of temperate and subtropical invertebrates including sea stars, urchins and molluscs as well as a number of fish species. Bottlenose dolphins are extremely common in the park's waters. A colony of Australian sea lions haul out on Seal Island for most of the year and often fish and swim in nearby waters. The Australian sea lion is the rarest in the world and the species is given special protection under State legislation.