Yellow-eyed penguin conservation in the Catlins
January 13, 2014

So we have arrived at our first port of call – The Catlins! Or more specifically… Nugget Point. Nugget Point is considered one of the ‘most iconic landforms on the Otago coast’ and I couldn’t agree more. The scenery is breathtaking and the wildlife incredible. Since arriving I have seen penguins (of course), sea lions, terns, pied stilts, fantails, tui, rifleman, silvereye, spoonbills, kereru… and many more. We have experienced a whole range of weather, sunny skies, pouring rain, even a storm, so I’m definitely not feeling homesick as the weather is as unpredictable as Auckland’s!

Whilst we’re here we are working alongside DoC Ranger Mel Young who has a wealth of knowledge and expertise with over ten years of experience working with yellow-eyed penguins. We are also working alongside Dr Lisa Argilla, an amazing vet from Wellington Zoo (who has even performed an emergency caesarean section on a giraffe). Sam and I have only been working in the field for two days now, but I already feel like I’m learning so much from them both.

So for the last couple of days we have been carrying out yellow-eyed penguin chick assessments at numerous field sites around the Catlins area. These assessments involve visiting nest sites to perform a health check which includes checking their body condition, weighing each chick and taking beak and foot measurements (which helps determine their age). Any adult birds seen were also given a similar check to ensure they were healthy.

As yellow-eyed penguins nest in forest habitat this has been very demanding work with lots of steep hill climbing and long walks through the forest, however, when a nest is found and the health check is performed. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing two penguin chicks waddling back into the nest, it makes all the hard work and effort well worth it!

Yellow-eyed penguins are one of the most crucial species in terms of tourism as a huge number of visitors come to the area to catch a glimpse of one of the most endangered penguin species in the world. Near where we are staying, I see numerous visitors come to the hide to watch the penguins come ashore every day, it reminds me of how important this species is and it also reminds me of how privileged we are to be able to be involved in this conservation work.

Mel and Lisa to the rescue!

Even after a long day out in the field, Mel and Lisa’s work isn’t always over. With only five minutes before dinner was ready to be served, a call comes in from the DoC office. There has been a call from a member of the public and an injured penguin has been spotted. So there’s no time for dinner – it’s time to help a penguin in distress!

The DoC truck is packed up and off it goes! Once the penguin was spotted and taken back to base, it could be seen that the penguin, which was a large, healthy female (thought to be a brooder) had a very serious foot injury. The injury is thought to be from a barracuda, a natural predator of the yellow-eyed penguin when they are out at sea. The injury is so severe that it is determined that the penguin will need to have surgery the following morning.

So, with all hearts hoping that this important penguin will survive, a ranger, a vet, two DoC ambassadors and a yellow-eyed penguin settle down to sleep another night in the Catlins.

Dannie Cullen

Dannie Cullen

BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2014