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Nature gives little blues a pounding

A combination of events has caused the biggest die-off of penguins in our waters for many years.

Western Bay Wildlife Trust has had 58 calls in the last fortnight.

All of the penguins were dead or had died within a short time of arriving on land. By the time they wash up, they are so far gone that there is very little that can be done to help them.

Julie Graham of the Wildlife Trust says the mass penguin die off is occurring all the way up the East coast, including Coromandel, Hauraki gulf, Waiheke Island and other offshore Islands and as far north as Russell.

The combination of factors leading to the mass little blue penguin fatalities include a lack of food, rough weather and moulting.

“La Niña and climate change means warmer waters which means less fish and available food sources for our penguins,” says Julia.

“The weather - cyclones and offshore storms - are making it much harder for the penguins to hunt and find food. And a weak hungry penguin doesn’t stand a chance in these conditions.”

Every year between February and April little penguins moult or change their feathers. “In order to moult successfully, they need to double their body weight in order to survive as they are no longer waterproof and cannot stay in the water,” says Julie. This process can take three weeks.

“As they cannot stay in the water without facing death from hypothermia, they cannot hunt for food. If they are not a decent weight before they start moulting, it is unlikely they will survive the moult.”

A food shortage has meant that many are now starving and anaemic, and are washing up to die. Most are so far gone they do not respond to treatment.

Fledglings, or young penguins, face tough odds on a good day. Add the abnormal combination of events and they stand little chance of making it through their first year at sea.

Julia says there is very little we can do to help these birds apart from offering them peace and quiet.

If you find a dead penguin, dig a hole and bury it. Call 0800SICKPEnguin and leave details of the area or location.

If you find a live penguin, please do not put it in the water. They have left the water for a reason and putting them back in the water will more than likely kill them. Place it in the sand dunes or under a rock away from the waters edge and out of sight of people and dogs.

This is the preferred option as they need to rest and be left alone.

If penguin has visible wounds, such as from a dog attack or a broken wing, please call 0800SICKPEnguin, or contact ARRC on 5799115.

The Wildlife Trust advises keeping dogs away from beaches or under full control at all times during the next few weeks. Keep dogs out of the sand dunes at all times.

Please try and give the bird space. It is more than likely dying and should be left in peace. Do not attempt to touch it unless you are moving it to a safer area in the dunes.

Julia Graham says there is very little we can do to help these birds apart from offering them peace and quiet.

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