Vets work to heal penguin

Massey University wildlife veterinarians are working hard to heal an Otago Peninsula yellow-eyed penguin attacked by a shark.

The penguin sustained multiple lacerations from being "inside a shark's mouth", fractured ribs from being shaken, and a deep laceration to one leg, Massey wildlife veterinarian Dr Brett Gartrell said.

The penguin was observed coming ashore at the end of last month by staff at Penguin Place on Otago Peninsula, who called Dunedin wildlife vet Tony Malthus.

He assessed the penguin and called on Massey's wildlife centre for help when he discovered it had possible severe nerve and tendon damage to its foot.

The Department of Conservation (Doc) flew the bird to the centre in Palmerston North last week.

Dr Gartrell said the penguin was in danger of contracting a severe infection from the bacteria, sand and grit in its wounds, so staff were flushing them out twice a day and applying antibiotics.

The leg injury appeared to be improving, but it would not return to full function.

The penguin was being kept in an air-conditioned room and was regularly sprayed with fresh water.

It was being force-fed king salmon and was receiving fluids intravenously.

Doc coastal Otago biodiversity assets programme manager David Agnew said surgery to close the main wound on the penguin's leg, which sustained nerve damage, would be carried out once its condition was stabilised.

The penguin's life was no longer in danger, but it was unclear whether it would be able to return to the wild.

Dr Gartrell said while it could be argued the incident was a natural event and humans should not intervene, many penguins also died because of the actions of humans.

"This is giving a little bit back.

If we had left it alone it would have died a long, slow, agonising death by infection."

The penguins were a relatively endangered species so helping one additional female back into the wild would benefit the population.

While Massey had an oil wildlife response unit, the rescue gave staff a chance to learn ways to help penguins injured in an attack, Dr Gartrell said.

"We'll need to see it stand and walk before we send it back. If it can't go back to the wild, it'll have to be put to sleep."

Penguin Place owner Howard McGrouther said shark, sea lion or barracuda attacks on yellow-eyed penguins were common at this time of year.

"It was very lucky to get away. Not many do."

Ninety penguins were treated at Penguin Place's hospital last year.

rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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