Introduction

Wellington’s south coast roads are proving perilous for little blue penguins, with three killed by motorists last weekend.

Date:  15 July 2009

Wellington’s south coast roads are proving perilous for little blue penguins, with three killed by motorists last weekend.

Concerned about the impact of the deaths on Wellington’s penguin population, the Department of Conservation (DOC) is appealing to the public to drive with care around the south coast, and watch out for penguins crossing the road to reach their burrows.

“They are the world’s smallest penguin at only around 30cm high, are hard to see as they come ashore in the evening and don’t stand a chance against a big metal car,” says DOC Poneke Area programme manager Kerry Swadling, who responded to calls about the deaths on DOC’s emergency hotline (0800 DOCHOT) over the weekend.

Places for Penguins volunteers create penguin-friendly habitat in Tarakena Bay on Wellington's south coast. Photo: Jamie Stewart.
Places for Penguins volunteers create
penguin-friendly habitat in Tarakena
Bay on Wellington's south coast

“It’s unusual and unfortunate to lose so many over such a short space of time.”

There are only thought to be around 600 nesting pairs of blue penguins living in and around Wellington with the latest losses a real blow to the population.

“Penguins are starting to pair up in preparation for the breeding season, so any losses now may impact chick numbers later in the season,” says DOC biodiversity ranger Brent Tandy.

“Penguins are often forced to cross coastal roads to get to their burrows. If you are out driving along the coast when penguins would typically be coming ashore or going back out to sea (dawn and dusk) we ask that people be extra vigilant and slow down if possible”.

As well as being threatened by motor vehicles, blue penguins are also vulnerable to predators such as cats, dogs, stoats and ferrets. Helping to reverse the decline of ‘little blues’ in Wellington is Forest & Bird’s Places for Penguins programme. Volunteers are providing safe nesting sites, by placing nest boxes in Tarakena Bay, planting penguin-friendly native coastal plant species, and monitoring penguin populations.

Places for Penguins co-ordinator Jenny Lynch says there are a few simple things people can do to help protect ‘little blues’:

  • Tie your dog up at night and keep it on a leash at the beach
  • Keep your cats in at night as that’s when penguins are onshore
  • Drive carefully along any coast road, especially at night when they cross roads to their burrows
  • Don’t disturb little blue penguins as they come ashore to feed their young on their nests
  • Dispose of rubbish carefully, if not it may end up at sea where penguins and other sea birds may mistake it for food – which can be fatal

To find out more about how to get involved in Places for Penguins contact Jenny on +64 4 801 2766 or email j.lynch@forestandbird.org.nz

If you find an injured little blue penguin call the 24 hour DOC emergency hotline 0800 DOCHOT (0800 36 42 68).

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Contact

Kerry Swadling

Kapiti Wellington Office
Phone:   +64 4 470 8412
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   wellington@doc.govt.nz
Address:   13b Wall Place
Kenepuru
Porirua 5022
Postal Address:   PO Box 5086
Wellington 6140

See also:

Little blue penguin is the common name for Little penguin

Places for Penguins - Forest and Bird website

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