Starvation has hit yellow-eyed penguin chicks, killing up to
50% of this breeding season's population on Otago Peninsula.
It is the second blow to hit the endangered penguins on
peninsula colonies this year after a serious mystery illness
killed 68 adults in February.
That ''mass mortality'' event resulted in nest numbers on
Otago Peninsula this breeding season being 30% lower than the
previous season. Nest numbers were also down in the Catlins
Department of Conservation ranger Mel Young said early chick
losses from this breeding season had been high at some
nesting sites and many had died in the first fortnight of
''Many nests have failed completely or are down to one
Dead chicks had been sent to Massey University's wildlife
centre for necropsy (animal autopsy).
''Starvation has been indicated as the main cause of the
chick losses, although the heat may be taking its toll.''
A similar pattern of early chick losses due to starvation
also occurred in 2008, when it was thought La Nina conditions
with high sea surface temperatures and extreme heat
contributed to the deaths, she said.
Additionally, this season was four weeks later than normal,
so chicks were at different stages on some beaches.
''It is hard work. We hoped it would be a good year for them
but they are working very hard for their food and coming back
Doc coastal Otago conservation services manager David Agnew
said monitoring by all the agencies involved in protecting
the penguins clearly indicated many adults had decided not to
breed this year.
''Maybe they had some cues it was not a good year to breed.''
While the chick deaths were a concern, last season's mass
mortality was more significant as the loss of long-lived
breeding adults made more of a impact on population numbers,
''We know only a portion of chicks survive the first year at
sea but it'll be a concern if this trend continues every
Those chicks which had survived so far were in good condition
and it was hoped they survived to fledge.
The species was also important to the city's tourist economy
and it was not expected the latest event would impact on
people's viewing opportunities, he said.
Penguin Place's Glen Riley said chick deaths had also been
high on the beaches it oversaw but there were many
non-breeding birds and adults around.
''It's more typical winter activity, so there is a lot more
activity rather than nesting behaviour. It's quite exciting
here in the afternoons.''
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said the
deaths were concerning for the peninsula colonies but it was
isolated to Otago Peninsula.
''We wouldn't want more years like this. We'll be very
anxious about the next breeding season.''
Breeding at the Catlins and North Otago colonies was similar
to last year, if not better, she said.