The Mission - Blog 1
Tuesday 30th October, 2012Welcome to the 2012 Auckland Island expedition blog. The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and the Department of Conservation have joined forces to count hoiho down in the Auckland Islands this month. They've recruited six keen volunteers who are going to help out, and Piko the Penguin has asked if we can keep everyone up-to-date with what's going on. We set sail on 13 November, and are due back on 23 November (weather permitting!), but there will be so much to talk about that we thought we'd start now!
Some of you might remember that Ranger Leith and Sandy King were part of a joint YEPT-DoC expedition to the Auckland Islands in late 2009. Jo Hiscock, who is expedition leader this year, was along on that trip as well. A small team headed south on the yacht Tiama for a month, with the aim of identifying possible yellow-eyed penguin breeding sites around the main Auckland Island. Despite terrible windy weather they managed to walk more than 200 kilometres of coastline, and identified more than 300 possible breeding sites. Armed with that information we are now in a much better position to try and count the penguins, as we know where to concentrate our efforts.
We want to carry out this census as we really don't know how many yellow-eyed penguins make their home in the Auckland Islands. Last year there were 514 breeding pairs on mainland New Zealand. Back in 1989 Peter Moore carried out an intensive study of penguins on Campbell Island, and he thought there were between 570 and 700 pairs there. He also did a quick survey of the Auckland Islands, and confirmed that Enderby Island in the north of the group was a stronghold for yellow-eyed penguins. All up he estimated there might be 520-680 breeding pairs in the Auckland Islands, but it was very much an educated guess.
As we've seen from our research on the mainland, penguin numbers can go up, or more usually down, and we'd like to know whether our assumption that about a third of the total population of yellow-eyed penguins live in the Auckland Islands is a valid one. To do that we need to establish a population baseline, and then we'll be able to keep an eye on how things are going for our subantarctic penguins.
As Leith and Jo found out in 2009, counting penguins in the Auckland Islands is not an easy task, and in the next few blogs we'll fill you in on all the exciting details of the expedition, and let you know how we plan to meet this challenge. Piko will post alerts on Facebook when there are new updates here for you - we'd love to have your company on the expedition, and don't forget to tell your friends, too!
PS This blog is being written by Alison Ballance. I am a natural history writer and broadcaster, and although I now call Wellington home for many years I lived on the Otago Peninsula, and was involved the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust's habitat committee. I was also on the Otapahi management committee. I have a real fondness for the subantarctic as I spent four months on Campbell Island (in winter!) studying feral sheep for my master's degree. I spent many hours sitting watching sheep, and I reckon that will be good training for sitting counting yellow-eyed penguins! I'll introduce you to other members of the team over the next few blogs.