Kuaotunu Bird Rescue is asking the public’s help in order to save the lives of sick or distressed little blue penguins who are turning up along the Coromandel shoreline.
Annemieke Kregting from the rescue centre says birds are starting to arrive at the centre as juveniles who are leaving the nest get into difficulty.
“Chicks hatch between September and December and are eight weeks when they’re fully grown. The parents feed them in the nest until then. Once the chicks are independent, the parents return back to sea to stock up on food before moulting. The juveniles are then on their own and need to swim, navigate and hunt for food all at once,” Annemieke says.
Studies show that only around 30 per cent of young penguins survive to adulthood and a lot are found on beaches each year barely alive or dead. A reduction in the amount of easily available food in recent years means longer and more dangerous trips to find fish, forcing the juveniles to swim up to 25km offshore.
“Last year, thousands of little blue penguins were washed up on northern and eastern beaches. Some of the birds brought into Kuaotunu Bird Rescue that didn’t survive were sent to Massey University for autopsy and were all found to have major organ failure due to starvation,” says Annemieke.
However, by knowing the correct thing to do if they come upon little blue penguins, people can help to save their lives. “Finding a penguin on the beach or in shallow water during the day, means it’s critically ill and exhausted. Never put it back into the water. If it’s sick enough to approach, you can pick it up with a towel or jacket and move it into the dunes away from predators and hot sun or take it to your nearest bird rescue centre. Don’t attempt to feed it or give it water. Exhausted birds will simply choke and die,” says Annemieke.
Unfortunately, once the birds get to Kuaotunu Bird rescue, the chances of survival are already fairly slim. “I usually first take a look at the colour inside the mouth. A grey, pale mucous membrane simply means I have a severely anaemic bird to deal with and organ failure has already occurred. We first raise their temperature by placing them on a heat pad or inside an incubator. Fluids are given via a tube or injection under the skin once the desired temperature is reached. Food isn’t given until the bird is rehydrated,” Annemieke says.
“The ones that make it through, if found in time, will get a fish slurry and then go onto whole fish. It’s always rewarding to able to save some of the birds. Because penguins always return to the place where they hatched, they are released at the site where they were found, even if that means we have to travel a bit.”
Penguins are at their most vulnerable when on land, especially if they are sick or injured, when they are at the mercy of predators. Dogs on beaches, out of sight of their owners, are the worst. “Don’t let your dog roam and when allowed off leash, always know where it is,” Annemieke says.
Reproduced courtesy of the Mercury Bay Informer