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More than 260 people will converge on Dunedin this week to take part in the 10th International Penguin Conference.
The biology, ecology, heath and behaviour of penguins will be discussed by leading researchers at the five-day IPC10 conference, hosted by the University of Otago.
The gathering will bring together researchers, conservation practitioners and other stakeholders and starts on Saturday.
It will include workshops and 70 talks by leading specialists and students working on penguin biology, ecology, health and behaviour.
The IPC is staged every three years but this will be the first to be held in Dunedin since the first one, organised by Prof Lloyd Spencer Davis and John Darby in 1988.
Eighty participants, representing about 80% of worldwide penguin researchers, attended that first conference and research activity had since increased dramatically, Prof Davis, of Otago's Centre for Science Communication, said.
The IPC still drew about 80% of active penguin researchers so the huge increase in participants reflected the ''popularity and importance of penguins as a marine indicator species'', he said.
''It comes at a critical time of environmental and climate change and penguins really are our canaries in the mineshaft that is the oceans,'' he said.
New Zealand had five penguin species, the highest number globally, and Dunedin was home to one of the most endangered, the yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho.
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said the hoiho was in crisis, but the 18 penguin species globally were under threat.
Prof Davis said that since the 1980s, Otago University scientists had undertaken research on penguin species on the New Zealand mainland, as well as in the Subantarctic Islands and the Ross Sea sector of the Antarctic.