Hoiho faces NZ extinction in 25 years

In just 25 years, the only sight of the hoiho on New Zealand's mainland could be on our $5 note.

A new study by the University of Otago warns the endangered yellow-eyed penguin could completely disappear from our shores by 2060 unless drastic action is taken.

That's the conservative estimate. In 2013, 60 penguins died, and other events like that could bring the local extinction date closer.

With poor breeding years recently, the situation only get darker.

The researchers say with adult survival rates from 2015 included, the penguins are expected to be locally extinct within 25 years.

Dr Thomas Mattern, the study's lead author, told Newshub part of the blame goes to rising sea surface temperatures, as well as a political reluctance to do something about the impact of fisheries.

"When we say, 'Hey, we need to do something about fisheries', the industry fears for the worst and they go into defensive mode. So nothing has eventuated from anything," he says.

Five dollar Hoiho

The hoiho is a strong tourism pull, not only featured our $5 note, but also on billboards in major airports and in other advertising.

"Yet despite being celebrated in this way, the species has been slowly slipping towards local extinction," Dr Mattern says.

About 300 breeding pairs of yellow-eyed penguins live in the South Island and Stewart Island, while most of the species lives on the Sub-Antarctic Islands, which are mostly uninhabited aside from researchers and tourists.

Dr Mattern says only about a third of the drop in penguin numbers can be explained by climate change.

Other problems are bottom trawling, predators, sewerage discharge and tourism.

"We need to take some of the additional unnecessary pressure off the species to help them recover," he says.

"Fisheries by-catch is a big problem for those birds, particularly set-netting."

In the paper, the researchers say we need to make a choice to stop the species from dying off.

"Without immediate, bold and effective conservation measures, we will lose these penguins from our coasts within our lifetime," the paper says.