Saturday January 24th, 2014
January 24, 2014

Just as Sam and Dr Lisa were finishing up surgery on the female penguin with the tendon injury, I found myself assisting DOC Ranger Mel with retrieving two injured adult penguins and their two chicks from out in the field.

We had left that morning with the promise of visiting ‘one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand’ aka Hinahina Cove and that promise was certainly kept! It truly was an amazing place. We carried out chick assessments at a number of nest sites and near the end of the fieldwork we came across a nest site with not only two chicks, but also both parents of the chicks. During the morning it is very uncommon to find two adults at the nest. At this point in the penguin’s lifecycle, both parents should be out at sea feeding during the day so that they are able to feed their chicks. However, upon closer inspection it revealed that both adults had serious foot injuries (thought to be from barracuda) and were underweight. The chicks were also thin and underweight, suggesting that the parent’s had not been well enough to go out to sea to feed for a long time. Following these assessments, the decision was made to retrieve the family of four for surgery and rehabilitation.

The next day, the St Kilda Veterinary Centre were kind enough to lend us their operating table for the afternoon (once again) to help try and save this important species. Dr Lisa performed surgery on both adult birds and both Sam and I assisted with the surgery. I was nervous leading up to the surgery and felt completely out of my depth as I have no knowledge in veterinary operations… but what an experience! With a five hour-long surgery, it certainly was jumping into the deep end of the vet nursing world. However it was both a rewarding experience and a privilege to be able to assist with the surgery. And after an unfortunate outcome of the previous day’s surgery, it was great to see two adult breeding birds doing so well post-op.

On our last day in the Catlins, Sam and I were also fortunate enough to help release a penguin (that had been in rehabilitation to recover from injuries) back into the wild. I’ve had the opportunity to work with rehabilitated wildlife in the past and the release back to the wild is always the most rewarding and satisfying part of the work. I felt a great sense of triumph as I realized the importance of this release as this penguin will hopefully breed and raise chicks for many years in the future – a crucial element to the survival of the yellow-eyed penguin’s endangered population. I also found myself reflecting on the successful surgery of the two adults from Hinahina Cove and my heart soared imagining them being released back to the wild with their two chicks – it’s hard not to root for these guys!

Although Sam and I may not be here long enough to see the penguin family’s release, we were lucky enough to be staying at Penguin Place for Week Two of the expedition. Penguin Place is also home to the Penguin Hospital, which is where the penguin family of four will also be staying for their rehabilitation! So as we continue to learn how to work with yellow-eyed penguins out in the field, we will also be able to check in with the penguin family over the next seven days to follow their rehabilitation journey!

However, after a long week of work out in the field, Sam and I are looking forward to our upcoming rest days where we plan to explore more of Dunedin’s coastline and wildlife!

Dannie Cullen

Dannie Cullen

BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2014