The Great Annual Blue Penguin Count 2018

Getting smart about the annual count with the iNaturalist app 

Penguin Count banner 950 wide 2018


Are there penguins on your local beach?  We’d love you to find out and let us know!  

An early morning walk this spring will help you rediscover the beauty of your local coastline, discover whether penguins are using the beach and help us build a clearer picture of where blue penguins are on the West Coast.  

To make it easy for you, useful for us and accurate, we’re asking you to record any penguin observations – probably mostly penguin tracks but perhaps a live penguin or penguin sounds – using the i-Naturalist app on your smart phone or tablet during this week, when blue penguins are likely to be busy feeding chicks and the tides are just right.

iNaturalist has been around for a few years, is ‘the online place for Kiwi nature watchers’, and you can add any nature observation at any time.

It may take a few minutes to install and familiarise yourself with it, but then it’s a piece of cake to add your records, including your photos if you wish.

  1. At home, go to the iNaturalist website and create a login
  2. Find The Great Annual Blue Penguin Count under ‘Projects’ and join our project. Link to the Great Blue Penguin Count 2018 project 
  3. For your mobile device, Open the iNaturalist webpage, scroll to the bottom  of the page and get the Android or iphone app or find the iNaturalist app in your app store. 

Then, to record your observations, either at home…

4a. Click on ‘Add Observations’ and start entering your record or records!  You just zoom into the map and click on the location of the observation and add as many details, comments and photos as you like following the prompts.  The only required information for this project is the location and whether the observation is a live penguin, footprints, a call, or a dead penguin.

Or during your walk and from your mobile devices,

4b. Open the iNaturalist app

5. Enable GPS so that the app finds your location

6. As you see or hear your penguin observation, click on the green + circle to record your observation.  The app will prompt you to take a photo, use a photo you have already taken, or not to have a photo – your choice. 

7. If there are just a handful of observations, you can add ‘little penguin’ under ‘What did you see?’ and then ‘Add to project’, selecting the Great Annual West Coast Blue Penguin Count 2018, and then picking the kind of ‘Penguin Activity’ you have observed.  You can also add any additional notes if you wish then move on to the next observation, perhaps more penguin tracks, as you walk along the beach. iNaturalist logo and link

8. If you are finding lots of tracks to record, you can simply use a photo, or no photo, and then tick in the top right to record the observation as you walk.  

9. Then, back at home, log into iNaturalist on your computer and you can batch edit as follows, so that you’re not filling in the fields for each observation while out at the beach.

10. To ‘batch edit’ your observations:

Batch editing may appear a bit complex, but it is a lot faster than stopping to enter the details as you walk along the beach if there are many observations to record.  If all else fails, email Inger for some help:

You can also look at our project to see where others have recorded observations.

There is plenty of help in the iNaturalist help section, so give it a go – have a play! 

footprint photo

If you’re new to penguin footprints, we have put together some information here: Penguin and other footprints.  The key thing to look for is fairly straight lines of footprints heading from the dunes to the sea early morning.  The three toes make an angle of less than 90 degrees, nearer 70 degrees, whereas many other seabirds have their toes spread wider than a right angle. 

Lucy Waller finds penguin tracks, Sept 2016

Lucy Waller finds penguin tracks, Sept 2016

Please think safety before you venture out.  Walking on our wonderful beaches soon after sunrise is often a magical experience but there are a few safety messages.  Remember to watch out for the waves – never turn your back on them, and any seals – give them a wide berth of at least 10-15m if possible. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. 

And don’t forget, iNaturalist is for all nature observations, so you can add other encounters, perhaps oystercatchers, dotterels, shags, seals, skinks, or a curious fungus or seashell any time!  Have fun!



A bit of background

Fern Collings Davis points out penguin tracks

Fern Collings Davis points out penguin tracks

In previous years, over a few consecutive days in late winter or early spring, interested locals have walked the beaches of the West Coast counting penguin prints.  It is an informal approach to surveying, highly dependent on weather, but does help build a better picture of the scattered penguin populations along the West Coast.  Results also indicate trends over time.

The annual census, along with scientific studies, have led the Trust to believe that blue penguin numbers on the West Coast are declining, and currently number in the high hundreds, or low thousands.  Given the coastal area is approximately 500 kilometres long, this is a very low population density.  

The census has contributed much to our understanding of where penguins are nesting and the threats to their survival in those areas as well as giving more people a greater connection to their beach and the wildlife that lives there.  Positive actions have come out of the census too, including new dog signs up and down the coast as well as restoration projects.

Moving to the NatureWatch system allows more flexibility and more information to be recorded.  It taps into the global world of nature recording, with the opportunity to add photos, immediate location recording and results instantly available among other advantages. 

Previous ‘Census’ Results

9-12 October 2015

11-15 September 2014

There was a lower take up on the penguin census this year, perhaps because it came just as that long dry spell of weather broke!  However, the results, which came in via online reporting for the first time this year, covered an impressive distance, from Ngakawau in north Buller down to Haast Beach. 

Again, it was challenging to compare this year’s results with previous years’ data, and there was the usual mix of counts being the same, being greater and being less than last year, with about the same number going up as going down. 

One notable reduction in numbers was seen in the area of the new fence, so we can now hope to see numbers increase in the three colonies there, as no, or at least fewer penguins are killed on the adjacent road. 

Many volunteers noted that erosion had increased over the past 6-12 months, although a couple of comments noted that erosion had stabilised more recently.  Coastal vegetation in some areas around Haast appeared to have been inundated and sea level rise was implicated by the respondent.

Thank you to all those who took part!  If you went out in September and found very few tracks, going out again later in the breeding season may reassure you that the penguins are still there, as they will be going out more regularly to feed chicks, particularly October to December.

 Census results 2013

 Census results 2012 

 Census results 2011

 Census 2010 PDF

 2009 Census – (PDF 1.5MB)

 2008 Census – (0.4MB PDF)