GPS Blue Penguin Foraging Study

Two years of tracking plus trial now part of wider study (April 2017)

The tiny GPS units were applied to blue penguins during the 2015 and 2016 chick rearing seasons and the Trust collaborated with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in a wider study to better understand the foraging patterns.

A report was published in the NZ Journal of Zoology in April 2017: read more and find a link to the article here.

The research team, including the Trust’s Kerry-Jayne Wilson and Reuben Lane, advise that the foraging range is far greater and more variable than thought, putting penguins at risk from various commercial activity including mining and dredging.  Further information will be collected during the 2017 breeding season and the Trust hopes that further information and analysis will continue to improve the understanding of the ecology blue penguins and contribute to more informed conservation management.

We’d like to thank the JS Watson Trust (managed by Forest & Bird) for their support and Te Papa for their collaboration.

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First GPS tracking trial a success (2013)

In a first for the West Coast, the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust has undertaken a pilot programme to see where little blue penguins go to find food. The study will use Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking technology to monitor the penguins as they head out into the Tasman Sea to find food for their chicks. 

Eight tiny GPS units were attached to blue penguins at Charleston in October 2013 and their foraging journeys can now be recorded.

Click to enlarge

Reuben Lane, the WCBPT ranger who led the study, went to the research facility at Penguin Place on Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia, earlier this year to learn the skills needed to use the GPS units. Smaller than a matchbox and weighing only a few grams, the GPS receivers are attached to adult breeding penguins with special waterproof tape, so the penguins’ ability to swim won’t be affected.

The pilot study is the start of what will be a three-year programme. It is the first of its kind undertaken by the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust and it’s the first time blue penguins have been tracked on the West Coast. The goal is to build a more complete picture of penguin foraging patterns over time.

Breeding pairs take turns to go out fishing and will typically head out to a known food source, where they will fish for about 24 to 48 hours, and sometimes longer if needed. One of the first penguins at Charleston to go out with its GPS receiver didn’t return for four days. Another travelled nearly 30 kms off the coast, swimming a surprising 90 kms in total over one day.

Penguins will eat mainly small fish and squid, however the weather as well as water temperature may make their preferred food more difficult to find at certain times of the year.

“We would like to find out if penguins are targeting specific locations, and if their food supply is limiting a population recovery”, says Reuben.

The data will eventually be compiled and analysed to gain a better understanding of what penguins need to thrive.

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