Cel­e­brat­ing our su­perb seabirds


New Zealand is con­sid­ered the se­abird cap­i­tal of the world, with 80 species breed­ing in Aotearoa.

More than a third are en­demic or found nowhere else in the world. This week is World Ocean Week, so we’ve taken this op­por­tu­nity to ad­mire how some of our feathered friends have evolved to in­habit this chal­leng­ing ecosys­tem.

We be­gin with the most eye­catch­ing of all, the Aus­tralasian gan­net/ta¯kapu. A feed­ing gan­net is an im­pres­sive sight.

Hurtling 145kmh from 15m above the wa­ter, and plung­ing an­other 10m be­low, it’s a won­der they don’t break their necks. Evo­lu­tion is an amaz­ing thing, how­ever, and to cush­ion the im­pact of the dive, gan­nets have air sacs around their chest and neck.

This ex­treme hunt­ing is still risky: re­searchers have found gan­net bod­ies fa­tally pierced by an­other, pre­sum­ably while pur­su­ing the same fish.

Flut­ter­ing shear­wa­ter/ pakaha¯ are also an im­pres­sive sight for their sheer num­bers. They feed in flocks, and some­times gather in their thou­sands in open wa­ters.

Of­ten, where there is a flock of flut­ter­ing shear­wa­ters, there is a school of fish such as ka­hawai un­der­neath, feed­ing on the same small fish.

Flut­ter­ing shear­wa­ters nest in bur­rows un­der for­est canopy.

Not only is an adult faith­ful to their mate each year, they of­ten re­turn to the same bur­row to nest - an im­pres­sive feat when there are thou­sands of bur­rows in a colony, and no street signs!

The aero­dy­namic white­fronted tern/tara are of­ten called the swal­lows of the seas.

They breed in colonies at river mouths and estuaries, with their nest a slight de­pres­sion in the ground.

The pairs of­ten mate for life, and each breed­ing sea­son the male woos the fe­male with small fish.

They are bold lit­tle birds, and gang up to scare off a po­ten­tial threat to their eggs with a loud squawk and a well-aimed fae­cal ‘bomb’.

Of the 12 species of shag in New Zealand, our Marl­bor­ough coast­line is home to six: black shag/kawau, lit­tle black shag/ kawau tu¯i, spot­ted shag/ parekareka, pied shag/ ka¯ruhiruhi, lit­tle shag/kawau paka, and our own Marl­burian, the king shag/kawau.

King shags are only found in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds. Sadly, they are clas­si­fied as ‘Na­tion­ally En­dan­gered’ with an es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 800 in­di­vid­u­als. Un­like their cousins, king shags are eas­ily dis­turbed from their roost­ing or nest­ing sites, so ad­mire them from a dis­tance.

Lit­tle pen­guins/ko­rora¯, also known as lit­tle blue pen­guins, are the small­est pen­guin in the world. Pen­guin wings have evolved to be­come a rigid pad­dle, which al­lows them to pro­pel them­selves through the wa­ter af­ter prey.

They re­turn to land at dusk, and – as any sounds bach owner will be able to at­test to - they will then con­verse with each other with pierc­ing squeals, barks and growls through­out the night.

You can help seabirds, and other marine wildlife, flour­ish in our Marl­bor­ough wa­ters, by pick­ing up some rub­bish off the streets, river­banks or beaches. Ev­ery bit helps!

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