Starving penguin influx straining resources

Penguin Place rehabilitation co-ordinator Julia Clement feeds some of the recovering 80 starving chicks in the newly extended ''hospital'' on Otago Peninsula. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Penguin Place rehabilitation co-ordinator Julia Clement feeds some of the recovering 80 starving chicks in the newly extended ''hospital'' on Otago Peninsula. Photo by Craig Baxter.

A sudden influx of 80 mostly starving yellow-eyed penguins is stretching the resources of Otago Peninsula's penguin ''hospital''.

''Some, when they first came in, looked awful. They were skinny and sunken-in,'' Penguin Place rehabilitation co-ordinator Julia Clement said.

About 80kg of fish is needed each day to help the penguins gain enough weight so they can head out to sea with a good chance of survival.

It is thought a lack of food at sea is the result of high sea temperatures, which means adults are coming back to feed their chicks less frequently - and with less food.



To help chicks and adults survive moulting, the Department of Conservation is removing chicks from the wild to allow for supplementary feeding, therefore giving them a greater chance of survival.

Supplementary feeding is being provided by Katiki Point Penguin Trust volunteers for 39 chicks in North Otago.

Penguin Place's penguin hospital regularly looks after about 100 birds a season, but this year's sudden influx meant having to double the size of its enclosure and provide more food.

Manager Lisa King said businesses and fishing companies such as Sanford, Harbourside Fish, United Fisheries and Talley's had been generous at short notice, but even more fish was needed.

''We urgently need more fish and would like to hear from fishing companies which can help.''

Ms Clement said the penguins were fed twice a day. That and cleaning the pens took two staff 2.5 hours each every day.

Some penguins had to be force-fed. Others were able to take food offered by hand.

''It's physically exhausting work.''

The 80 penguins would continue to be fed until they weighed 5kg and were showing signs of being ready to go to sea, Ms Clement said.

They would then be released - probably later this month or in early March.

Big supermarket chains

Can't the big supermarket chains help out? Surely, Countdown, New World Market, and Pak'nSave could pitch in with a few kilos of fish every few days! And how about the big fishing companies like Sealord?

It's sadly ironic the penguins can't find enough fish, as the world's largest fishing factory freezer ship and its fleet of catcher trawlers passes through New Zealand waters. (I refer to the Chinese-owned Lafayette, 49,367 gross ton converted oil tanker flying under a Russian flag, and its six Peruvian-flagged trawlers.)

We can all help save these national treasures

Observer, that's a great idea. Maybe we can help in different ways.

While we can't do anything about La Niña, I wonder why there isn't a marine reserve around the Otago Peninsula to help insure fish stocks for local endangered wildlife. This would surely help them. This is supposed to be the wildlife capital of New Zealand, right? Tourists mainly come here to see the albatross, penguins and sea lions. I know because I read the travel blogs and forums. Apart from the money that pours into the community from wildlife tourism, these animals are national treasures and we have an obligation to protect them. And it is such a joy to see them healthy and thriving in the wild.

How can the public help

Thank you for this article and the incredible work and donations on behalf of these helpless animals.

An address or place where monetary donations could be sent should be given to the public.  Perhaps a "wishlist" for items this operation needs to help it go smoother could be put together.

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