Researchers track yellow-eyed penguin as population declines

  • 15/03/2018
A Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes), aka Hoiho, listed by the IUCN as Endangered, emerges from the ocean at Curio Bay, New Zealand and rests before proceeding to its nest at sunset
Photo credit: Getty

Rare hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, chicks are being tracked by satellite for the first time with one adventurous youngster already travelling 470 kilometres.

Twenty-three chicks have been fitted with tiny satellite transmitters as they leave their nests in New Zealand's far south and head into the wider ocean.

An endangered species, hoiho numbers have been dramatically declining in recent years.

A 1936 to 1952 study recorded 32 percent of the birds survived until they were at least a year old, with 26 percent surviving until they were old enough to breed.

But recent University of Otago research indicated these numbers had dropped to 20 percent and 12 percent respectively.

"We've seen a large decline in the number of young birds surviving to adulthood," researcher Mel Young said.

"Breeding adults need to be replaced. We need to find out which factors are shaping juvenile survival of yellow-eyed penguins at this critical life stage."

The team hope that technological advancements can help them answer the question.

"It's only in recent years that tracking technology has become small enough that we can safely carry out this kind of study - it has been very exciting seeing just where these young birds go," associate professor Yolanda van Heezik said.

At this stage, 15 of the 23 penguins have moved away from the areas in which they were hatched, heading north up the east coast of the South Island.

One penguin from the Catlin Islands, known as Takaraha, has travelled more than 470 kilometres.

Takaraha rounded Banks Peninsula over the weekend with the latest data showing it was 10 nautical miles east of Gore Bay, north of Christchurch.

Fellow researcher Thomas Mattern says the study data from satellite tracking would be used to help the team understand which coastal and ocean waters were important foraging grounds for the penguins.

This could help conservation management efforts and prevent the species' extinction, he said.