Yellow-Eyed Penguin trust field ranger Leith Thomson (left), of Dunedin, and Dunedin-based Department of Conservation (Doc) ranger David Agnew (centre), have their gear checked by Doc Invercargill quarantine store assistant Chris Pye before their trip to the Auckland Islands. Photo by Allison Rudd.
They are about to board a yacht and travel 465km south into
the notoriously rough waters of the Southern Ocean, but two
Dunedin men say they are ready for the challenge.
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust field ranger Leith Thomson and
Dunedin-based Department of Conservation (Doc) ranger David
Agnew are part of a 12-person team leaving Bluff today for
the Auckland Islands aboard the 25m yacht Evohe.
Another six-person team is also leaving Bluff today aboard
the 15m yacht Tiama, heading further away - 700km - to
the Campbell Islands.
Both wildlife expeditions will conduct the first
comprehensive survey of yellow-eyed penguins on the
subantarctic island chains.
Mr Thomson, who works mainly on Otago Peninsula and the
Catlins, will spend a week living in a cabin on Enderby
Island with former Oamaru Doc ranger Dave Hewson, now of
Auckland. Their task will be to find penguin nests, mark
birds, release them and count them on their return to their
Mr Agnew will live aboard the Evohe with the rest of
the team, making 4am starts for dawn penguin-counting duties
on the beach.
Both men have been to the subantarctic islands once before
and are keen to return.
"It's a pretty unique place.
The scenery and wildlife is pretty amazing. And it is good to
be involved in a project like this," Mr Agnew said.
Mr Thomson and Mr Agnew are the only two Dunedin people on
the expeditions, but three others have Otago links.
Doc subantarctic islands management ranger Jo Hiscock, of
Invercargill, is originally from Ettrick, Radio New Zealand
journalist and zoologist Alison Ballance, of Auckland, lived
in Dunedin for 18 years, and volunteer Alister Robinson, of
Sydney, also lived in Dunedin.
There are an 1464 to 1704 yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho)
breeding pairs on mainland New Zealand, including Stewart
The subantarctic islands were the stronghold for the penguins
and Doc wanted to get a better picture of how big the
populations there were, Ms Hiscock said yesterday.
"We know from previous research the penguins will be sitting
on nests incubating eggs at the moment, and that is the best
time to conduct a survey.
But it is going to a challenge getting ashore, especially if
we have the strong winds and rough seas, which are very
common down there."
The expeditions were costing between $80,000 and $90,000, she
said. Six volunteers from a range of backgrounds including a
retired engineer, a real estate agent and an investment
manager were paying $6000 each to participate in the trip and
help with the count, Ms Hiscock said.
Asked why the groups were travelling on charter yachts, she
said it was to save money.
"Yachts are cheaper to hire and operate than fishing boats
because you are not burning fuel, and they adapt better to
rougher weather. They are also better equipped for on-board
The yacht skippers, Steve Kafta on the Evohe and Sandy
King on the Tiama, were experienced skippers who had
been to the subantarctic islands before, she said.
The Evohe is expected to be away about 11 days and the
Tiama about 16 days.