Little blue penguin population decimated by La Niña with more than 450 washing up dead in NZ


La Niña weather event blamed for death of more than 450 of the world’s smallest penguins on a New Zealand beach

  • La Niña is devastating the population of the world’s smallest penguin
  • In the last six weeks more than 450 little blue penguins found dead on NZ shores 
  • Department of Conservation says La Niña is wreaking havoc on the population
  • DOC however insist it is normal for little blue penguins to die this time of year 

More than 450 of the world’s smallest penguins have washed up dead on the beaches of New Zealand‘s North Island in the last six weeks.

The little blue penguins, otherwise known as Kororā, are native to New Zealand.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) Kaitaia Operations Manager Meirene Hardy-Birch said they had received reports of dead penguins on Northland beaches since early May and blamed the deaths on the powerful weather phenomenon.

‘It is a seasonal event due to La Niña conditions. This brings increased sea-surface temperatures and onshore winds to New Zealand. These conditions can make it more challenging for kororā to nest and feed,’ said Ms Hardy-Birch.

New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) say La Niña is devastating the population of the world's smallest penguin

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) say La Niña is devastating the population of the world’s smallest penguin

The first report was made on May 2, with more than 20 birds reported at Tokerau Beach. 

Seven of those penguins were sent for necropsy which revealed signs of starvation and hypothermia as a result of a lack of blubber to keep them warm.

On June 9, the DOC received a call about a large number of deceased penguins washed up on Ninety Mile Beach.

Locals at Ninety Mile Beach last week reportedly collected a total of 183 penguins, while at the nearby Cable Bay locals discovered more than 100 decaying on the shore. 

‘We believe the dead penguins found off the DOC track leading to Chucks Cove, in Cable Bay, are from people picking up dead penguins on the beach and placing them there,’ said Ms Hardy-Birch.

‘We had a similar incident recently at Rangikapiti Pā Historic Reserve of dead penguins being collected and placed in one spot.

‘We ask that people leave dead penguins on the beach where they lie, to be washed out to sea or to decompose naturally.’

More than 450 little blue penguins (pictured) have washed up dead on NZ shores in the last six weeks, with more than half washing up in the last 10 days

More than 450 little blue penguins (pictured) have washed up dead on NZ shores in the last six weeks, with more than half washing up in the last 10 days

DOC insist it is normal for little blue penguins to die this time of year but warmer waters mean they have to dive deeper for food making it more stressful on the world's smallest penguin

DOC insist it is normal for little blue penguins to die this time of year but warmer waters mean they have to dive deeper for food making it more stressful on the world’s smallest penguin

Experts say this year will likely be a high mortality year for little blue penguins due to the La Niña weather system bringing warmer than average seas to northern New Zealand.

Breeding during a La Niña year is even more stressful and difficult as it brings warmer waters which means the fish that seabirds feed on stay in cooler, deeper waters as surface temperatures rise.

The penguins must therefore forage further away and dive deeper to find food.

Starvation is a risk for both themselves and their chicks and experts say there has been reports of a lack of small fish which the species depends on.

Dead penguins can start turning up on beaches as early as November, when the first chicks begin to depart the nest. 

The increased stress and exhaustion can make some birds more prone to illness and increase the risk of ending up under attack from more predators as they dive deeper for food.

High juvenile mortality is natural for the little blue penguin, particularly at this time of year. 

Often penguins simply need to rest, especially after a storm, however, many can not fend for themselves and die of either exhaustion or starvation.

Studies in the South Island by the DOC has revealed that typically only 30 per cent of chicks survive to adulthood. 

During a difficult season when little food is available, the survival rate can be even lower.  

While some chicks are found washed up on beaches, the majority are washed away by the sea currents, making the 450 figure likely a gross underrepresentation of the actual mortality rate this year.

Source

Related posts