At-risk penguins found dead in New Zealand
Hundreds of little blue penguins are washing up dead on beaches in New Zealand.
Also known as kororā, the small penguins have been found at the top of the country’s North Island on beaches such as Ninety Mile Beach, Cable Bay and Tokerau Beach.
Expert Vaughan Turner told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) that an estimated 200 little penguins were washing up on beaches in the area every day.
“There were quite a few, which seemed odd, so I thought I’d start counting them to see how many there were,” he said.
Kevin Mathews of Birds New Zealand has also been counting the birds and he told RNZ he believes they all died in the water.
He said: “One of the first things I do is look at the condition of the bird, see whether they’ve died at sea or have struggled to shore and died on the dune line. The birds that I found that were freshly washed ashore certainly appeared that they’d died at sea.”
The Department of Conservation’s Graeme Taylor said the kororā deaths are a result of rising sea temperatures, which are caused by the excess heat in the atmosphere, and the prolonged El Niño climate pattern.
Taylor added: “In the past, you might have had a lot of good years followed by one bad year where a lot of birds die, but then they rebound in those good years.
“But if we start to see the balance tipping towards more bad years versus good years, then they’re just not going to be able to recover.”
The kororā, which are just under 25cm tall, were once common in New Zealand, but they are now mostly found on the offshore islands. The adult birds come ashore between May and June to make nests and they can waddle up to 1.5km from the sea.
Their numbers have declined significantly over the last decade and they are now classified as at risk of extinction. Climate change and rising sea temperatures are negatively affecting the little penguins’ breeding season and causing mass die-offs.
Dotterells, albatross, petrels and shearwaters have also been found dead on the North Island and the ongoing effects of climate change likely mean we will see more die-offs of marine life in the future.
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“If we start to see the balance tipping towards more bad years versus good years, then they [kororā] are just not going to be able to recover.” Graeme Taylor, New Zealand Department of Conservation