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So far unexplained deaths of Yellow-eyed penguins

Bruce McKinlay, February 16, 2013
 

The bodies of more than 40 endangered yellow-eyed penguins have been found on Otago Peninsula, raising concerns of a repeat of a ''mass mortality'' event which wiped out 60% of peninsula breeding adults in 1990.

There's more in this press report.

Any report s of recent similar experience's would be appreciated.

Comments ( 8 )

Grant RW Humphries

Grant RW Humphries

Thanks for pointing this out Bruce! I was actually out at Aramoana about a week and a half ago and noticed a very ill looking YEPE. I have a couple of photos of it alive if you want them?

Bruce McKinlay

Hi Grant, Thanks for the offer of photos but we have plenty. As you saw it about 10 days ago the birds is now probably at Massey contributing to the data pile ;-) Bruce

Ursula Ellenberg

Ursula Ellenberg

Hey Grant: picked up a dead YEP at Aramoana on 8. Feb (probably the same bird - when exactly did you see it?). So far we have only 2 reports of penguins actually observed dying thus very keen to learn more! What kind of symptoms did you observe? What made you think it's sick?

Grant RW Humphries

Grant RW Humphries

Hey Ursula, We saw the penguin between the rocks on the Northern beach on Feb 7th at about 3 pm. It was pretty weak looking - struggled to stand, and was only taking a few steps at a time. Feathers were looking pretty dirty shaggy. The bird was also having issues keeping its eyes open while it was lying in the surf.

When it finally saw us, it attempted to stand up, but kept falling forward as if it were very very weak. It tried about 5 - 6 times before standing and very slowly limping out into the surf where it floated just outside the breakwater - no diving or swimming.

Stefanie Grosser

Did they ever figure out what killed the YEPs last time? I have heard several different suggestions and nothing really seems to make sense. Someone suggested heat stress (because it was quite warm over the past couple weeks) but would that explain, why they struggle ashore and drop dead on the beach? Biotoxins - why doesn't this effect other seabirds as well? There are lot's of seabird species that would eat the same prey species, swimm in the same waters etc., have any of those been affected? And if it's something that is penguin specific it would have probably effected little blues as well but so far it hasn't. Does anyone know if the same thing is happening in the subantartic islands population?

Ursula Ellenberg

Ursula Ellenberg

No Stefanie, they did not find out what caused the deaths in 1990.

Heat stress won't let them drop dead like this. However, the period of warm and calm weather may have aided in the development of a harmful algae bloom.

The event is localised to the Otago Peninsula down current from Dunedin city. No other breeding areas in Otago have been affected.

Yellow-eyed penguins forage mostly on the seafloor; little blues have a different foraging stategy.

Stefanie Grosser

Thanks for the comment Ursula. Surely it should be easy enough to get water samples that would confirm toxic algea? I don't know that much about the foraging strategies of YEP though. But I haven't heard of any studies done on foraging behavior of little blues on the peninsula either. I know that they differ quite considerably between different colonies in NZ. Any idea why the mortality it is so localised? I imagine that algea bloom would be more wide spead, or are there certain ocean currents in this area that promote it particularly in this region?

Bruce McKinlay

Although causation was not determined in the 1990 event this article by John Gill & John Darby summarises the event and includes reference to a number of environmental factors whish were present that summer.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00480169.1993.35733