Fiordland crested penguins everywhere

Skinny tawaki 3 July 2016A curious and perhaps worrying thing has been happening in recent weeks.  Since 3 July, and after months of not seeing any, nearly 20 tawaki have turned up on beaches between Okarito and Karamea.

It may be a bad year – perhaps food stocks are depleted or displaced due to the effects of El Nino – but it is certainly odd.  

A large proportion of these penguins appear to have starved to death or have been close to starving when rescued.  Sadly a couple of those died despite being given the best chance by increasingly expert native bird rehabilitators. 

Others have been found with wounds, possibly from sharp rocks or predators at sea, or one possibly from a boat propeller. Wedgy - injured tawaki July 2016

Four have been sent to Wellington Zoo’s the Nest for treatment, courtesy of Sounds Air, and it looks as if the first of those will be heading back to the coast for release soon. 

Tragically, and disappointingly, it seems that two of the Fiordland crested penguins may have been resting up and have been killed by dogs, one south of Hokitika and one south of Greymouth. 

What it does tell us is that research into the marine ecosystem is essential.  We are starting to understand land based threats, but the marine threats are a vast unknown.  The Tawaki Project starts its third year investigating the marine ecology of these penguins and will extend its research from South Westland and Milford Sound to the other extent of the breeding range, near Stewart Island this season.  In addition, a new Te Papa research project will begin to look into the foraging habits of tawaki, which will complement the Tawaki Project. 

We hope to learn more about where the penguins go to feed and how much effort they need to exert to raise a chick.  Variations can then be assessed in relation to marine conditions.

We’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here are a few short stories and videos from our facebook page:

Tawaki released at Mananui – video

Rescued tawaki being cared for

Tawaki being looked after

Rescued penguins being fed – video

Rescued tawaki having a bath – video

Injured penguin off to Wellington

Penguin care appeal and rehydration of rescued bird – video