Wednesday 16th December, 2015
Otago's yellow-eyed penguins are battling for survival, with the region's population hitting a 25-year low.
Fifty chicks have died this season after a run of hot weather and an outbreak of avian diptheria. It caps off a bad few years for the endangered birds.
Rangers from the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust visit nests around coastal Otago twice a week, taking measurements and making sure the birds are putting on weight.
They're also treating penguins affected by avian diphtheria - a disease which can block the airways, forcing chicks to starve to death.
"Certain years it's more prevalent, and this year places have been hit really hard, and some have died," says Leith Thomson, a senior ranger from the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust.
The Trust's been replanting native bush in areas turned into farmland.
But a hot November with less natural shelter has led to dozens of chicks dying of dehydration and starvation.
"The chicks were quite small when we had really hot days. And the adults know they can't sit on those chicks at that temperature, so they're getting up and leaving," says Mr Thomson.
The penguin population's been dropping steadily, despite the combined efforts of the Trust, Department of Conservation (DOC), and a Penguin rehab facility.
Six years ago, there were 30 nests in the private reserve near Allans Beach. Today, just five nests remain.
The decline is repeated across Otago and Southland, where the populations crashed from almost 500 breeding pairs in 2012 to fewer than 200 today.
The falling population is due to a range of causes, ranging from a mystery toxic agent in the water, through to barracouta attacks and human disturbance at breeding sites.
"If we're not getting that young lot coming through and breeding, we will have issues further down the track… We keep saying year by year, ‘next year's going to be better’, but it hasn't happened," says Mr Thomson.
That's not through a lack of effort. Rangers will monitor the birds throughout the summer, ensuring they're prepared to hit the water early next year.
Monday 16th November, 2015
Joint media release from the Department of Conservation and Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust
The yellow-eyed penguin/hōiho breeding season is looking bleak again this year, with nest numbers reaching their lowest since 1990.
Department of Conservation (DOC), the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) and key groups involved with penguin monitoring have been counting nests for the past month. The results of this indicate nest numbers across Otago-Southland have dropped from 491 pairs in 2012 to just 160 counted so far this season. Some sites are still to be searched but numbers will probably not exceed 190 pairs.
DOC Coastal Otago Biodiversity Ranger Mel Young said “what we are seeing on the mainland is a significant reduction in breeding stocks, with negligible recruitment of young birds”.
The penguin communities will work closely together over the coming months to manage and mitigate detrimental events affecting hōiho survival throughout the breeding season. As well as DOC and YEPT, other parties involved are Penguin Rescue, Penguin Place, Southland Forest and Bird, Otago University, landowners, local Rūnanga and volunteers.
Patrol of monitoring areas will be increased throughout the season to ensure penguins are in good condition. Underweight or injured birds will be removed for treatment and rehabilitation.
Breeding adults, whose survival is essential for population stability, have been hardest hit over the last three years by several events. These included an unexplained mass mortality assumed to be from a toxic marine-based agent, widespread starvation of adults, juveniles and chicks, outbreaks of avian diphtheria in chicks, and high rates of barracouta attacks.
Mel said that “The cumulative nature of multiple mass mortalities is coming home to roost. Every bird is important, and we are doing our utmost at each site.”
YEPT General Manager Sue Murray said that “The long-awaited good breeding season has not happened and these repeated poor breeding seasons have major management implications. The Trust, over the coming months, will be part of the collaborative effort with staff and volunteers regularly checking beaches for sign of any distressed birds and monitoring nest sites”.
YEPT were pleased to report that further south on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, nest numbers were one up on last year with 33 nests found. Sue said “finding a chick marked from the 2011/12 season is the first evidence of recruitment since the 2007/08 season, but it is insufficient to keep up with normal mortality rates. No juveniles have been seen, so none of last year’s chicks are likely to enter the future breeding population”. Codfish Island is a predator-free island, but the Trust has observed significant declines in this region. Numbers have decreased from 61 breeding pairs in 2001 to the 32 found both last and now this season.
Thursday 5th November, 2015
The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust is appointing a Conservation Science Adviser (CSA) to provide technical advice and information to the Trust and to collaborate in investigating the yellow-eyed penguins’ marine environment. The CSA will work also with Otago Museum to develop their collection.
The position will involve representing the Trust and Museum in a variety of roles; reviewing academic literature, producing a research agenda, doing field work, publishing in recognised media, and presenting at various fora.
It is essential the applicant has an understanding of conservation. The position requires someone also with an understanding of the demands of working in the natural environment, and who will be capable of meeting these.
Applications can be downloaded by clicking here >