Let nature take its course, says rescuer
Annemieke Kregting knows that dozens of little blue penguins brought to her won’t make it.
For 14 years, Kregting has run the Kuaotunu Bird Rescue centre on the Coromandel Peninsula, and every year between December and March, she sees the same thing.
Concerned people bring the little blues in to be saved and the most difficult part of her job is telling them the wee bird will die.
‘‘And it’s heartbreaking when it’s a family involved and there are kiddies coming up and starting to cry.
‘‘I just have to not beat around the bush and say this is what’s happening and it’s up to you to talk to your children about it and this is nature.’’
This year, more than double the usual number of penguins have been brought in. They’re dying off in huge numbers because there’s not enough for them to eat, a nationwide phenomenon.
‘‘Although we see it every year, this year’s definitely been up in numbers.
‘‘It’s actually a phenomenon, it happens every year except for the fact that this year has been twice as many and this year we’re finding dead ones washed up on the beach.
‘‘It used to be just one here and there, now it’s like 14, 15 in a row, which leads the scientists to believe there are definitely different weather patterns and a lack of food source for them that create a situation like that.’’
About 60 penguins have been brought in so far to the Kuaotunu centre, north of Whitianga. Three adults have survived. All the juveniles brought in have died.
The juveniles were in poor condition because their parents couldn’t find enough food for them, Kregting said.
‘‘The chicks start fledging at a very low weight, which gives them obviously low energy, so they get out of the burrow and they have to navigate and swim and find their own food for the first time and if the food is further away because of weather changes, then there isn’t enough food for them and they get exhausted.’’
About one in 10 rescued were adult birds who weren’t fat enough to survive their annual three-week moult on land.
Warmer-than-usual seas mean fish have spawned further out to sea.
‘‘Therefore the little penguins can’t find the [sprats] or they are too far,’’ she said.
However, penguin numbers were expected to recover over time.
‘‘This is a phenomenon that happens every 10 years and the numbers will go up again,’’ she said.
‘‘When we go out fishing, we can easily count 25 penguins on a trip. The species seem to survive and they’re not threatened at this stage.’’
Kregting recommends people leave any penguins where they find them and let nature take its course.
The centre is the only Department of Conservation-licensed bird rescue centre between Whangamata¯ and Port Charles.
Kuaotunu Bird Rescue volunteer Annemieke Kregting with a little blue penguin.