Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Mel Young
holds a yellow-eyed penguin, which died from unknown
causes. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The bodies of more than 40 endangered yellow-eyed
penguins have been found on Otago Peninsula, raising concerns
of a repeat of a ''mass mortality'' event which wiped out 60%
of peninsula breeding adults in 1990.
Adult penguins have been found dead at 13 of the 15 breeding
sites on the peninsula during nest checks in the past three
It is not known what caused their deaths but it was suspected
a marine biotoxin eaten by the penguins was the most likely
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust chairwoman Lala Frazer said it was
''absolutely devastating'' and had all the hallmarks of the
1990 event, when 150 breeding adults were found dead,
possibly also because of a biotoxin, but it was not known for
''We're really worried as the population has only just
recovered now to being back to a viable population from that
The trust was also ''afraid it is not over yet'' and could
have an even greater impact on the population. The loss of
adult breeding birds reduced chick numbers. Department of
Conservation ranger Mel Young described the deaths as
''tragic'' as the breeding season had seemed to be one of the
best seasons she had seen. There were 181 nests found on
Otago Peninsula this season.
Most of the dead penguins, including several juveniles and
chicks, had been found near their nests or on pathways to the
beach. More were believed to have died at sea or on land but
whose bodies had not been found.
''This is quite hard. The adults were in excellent
About 42 bodies recovered from sites from Blackhead to
Aramoana during routine end-of-season chick monitoring had
been sent to Massey University for postmortems but results
had been inconclusive.
Further testing of the stomach contents of the birds was
being undertaken by the university's Wildbase in association
with the Cawthron Institute.
It did not appear any other Otago breeding sites had been
The deaths of the adults was doubly tragic as it meant many
of this season's chicks had been left without parents to feed
them, Ms Young said.
It meant chicks were losing up to 1.5kg in weight and many
had been transferred to the penguin hospital at Penguin Place
so they could be fed until they were at the optimum weight
Contingency plans were being developed by the Department of
Conservation and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and would be
implemented as soon as the test results became available, she
In the meantime, Doc and trust staff and volunteers will
continue to monitor breeding sites. They urged anyone who saw
distressed or dead penguins to contact Doc.