Rehabilitated penguins at Pohatu bay.

This past season has been a very hard one for the penguins with many events impacting the breeding success of the colony and their survival.

La Nina and Giant petrels are 2 of the biggest reasons that we had so many penguins in rehabilitations this year.

What are they and how did those 2 events impact the colony?

  • La Nina is a warm marine current that is commonly found further away form our coastline. But this year the current has been very close to New Zealand meaning that with warmer water the penguins either had to go farther to sea or diving deeper that resulted in adults struggling to feed themselves and find enough food for their chicks as well.
  • And if this wasn’t enough Giant petrels that commonly live further south of New Zealand made their way to Banks Peninsula. Being predators and opportunistic scavengers they took advantage of the penguins socialising on the water at the end of the day resting before coming ashore. Petrels have been seen diving on adults and drowning them or even coming down on the rocks and grabbing them and flying off. We have been seeing this more and more on our evening tours, which is hard to watch but that’s Mother Nature.

Those 2 events meant that parent penguins were not or could not feed their chicks and so many starved or decided to go to sea early which resulted in chicks washing up dead or very weak onto the beaches this year.

During our tours with clients, as we were monitoring nesting sites we were looking for signs such as fresh poop and the general look of the birds giving us clues on their state of health.

It has been also very frequent to see chicks heading to sea during the day, which is not normal behaviour. They should stay in their burrow until they are at fledging age (around 8 weeks old) heading to the sea in the cover of darkness to avoid predator birds.

Not seeing the parents returning to feed them, they were going to try their chances at sea, which would have been near to nil as none of them would have had enough weight on or their feathers would not have been developed enough, meaning not very water proof and insulated.

Fluffy penguin chicks that happened to be out in the open in the middle of the day is not normal behaviour. A lot of them were washed up on the beach in a starved and dehydrated condition, and as we have a special permit from DOC to rehabilitate weak, injured or young birds we ended up having an average of 15 chicks at a time for a period of 2 to 4 weeks each.

We have rehabilitated and sent back into the wild more than 30 penguins this season.

Each ate 3 times a day an average of 5 anchovies or sardines per meal that brought us close to 7000 fish total.

As you can see on the photos it has been a bit like a cantina but we are very happy to say that we have had a very high success of release with only 1 going to the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch where you can go and see him, he is called Fred.

All of the conservation is paid by all of our clients who come on a tour and by generous donations via our “Adopt a penguin page”.

All penguins are now off to sea hunting and gaining all of the weight they have lost over their moult and we will see them again early April starting their pre-breeding visits all over winter before the next breeding season starting late august.

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