Penguin symposium taking wider perspective

A shearwater glides past a yellow-eyed penguin fitted with an underwater camera while it is at...
A shearwater glides past a yellow-eyed penguin fitted with an underwater camera while it is at the surface off Stewart Island. Student Richard Seed will present ‘‘I spy with my yellow eye: A bird’s eye view of the underwater world’’ on May 4 at the 11th biennial Oamaru Penguin Symposium. Photo: Thomas Mattern, University of Otago
Yellow-eyed penguins equipped with underwater cameras, seabirds breeding in Oamaru Harbour, protected species’ interactions with set-net fisheries, and the effects of climate change on penguins.

Those are just a few of the topics 23 presenters will tackle over two-days at the start of May at the 11th biennial Oamaru Penguin Symposium.

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony research scientist Dr Philippa Agnew said the "popular" symposium had expanded beyond its roots in the 1990s when it was called the Blue Penguin Scientific Symposium.

It not only included a variety of penguin species, but issues affecting other seabirds as well, and this year this year the symposium would cover some "really current research".

While only three species of penguin - little blue, yellow-eyed and Fiordland crested penguins - breed on the mainland, the Department of Conservation website notes 13 of the world’s 18 penguin species have been recorded in the New Zealand region and nine of those species breed here.

Yet when penguins made headlines, it was often not good news for the seabirds.The symposium, though, was a place where scientists could start looking for answers.

"For the number [of penguin species] that we have in New Zealand, we have a really high number that are classed as endangered or vulnerable," Dr Agnew said.

"We have a lot of penguins and we have a lot of penguins that are in trouble.

"It seems to be kind of one step forward and two steps back rather than making gains in terms of population numbers.

"The research is the best opportunity we have to try to do something about it, finding out how to stop disease, how to treat it, how to get the chicks surviving, and how to get improvements in recruitment - this is the opportunity for people to talk about how they feel that can be achieved."

One workshop this year would give attendees the opportunity to address issues faced by penguins and other seabirds with human conflict, including some issues  at Oamaru over the past year.

"How do we as biologists work out a way to protect birds in such a close environment to a town?" Dr Agnew asked. 

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