Introduction

150 blue rubber ducks are taking to the water for the Great Fiordland Whio Race on the Upukerora River, Te Anau.

Bath-time will get serious this Saturday with 150 blue rubber ducks taking to the water for the inaugural Great Fiordland Whio Race on the Upukerora River, Te Anau.

To celebrate Whio Awareness Month, DOC is hosting a whio family fun day which will also include face-painting, a blue duck dress-up competition, and a chance to meet Oska the DOC species dog, who is specially trained to sniff out whio in the wilds of Fiordland.

The Great Fiordland Whio race ducks. Photo: Barry Harcourt.
Ranger Andrew ‘Max’ Smart and Oska the whio dog

Conservation Services Ranger, Andrew ‘Max’ Smart manages the Fiordland whio programme, and is also Oska’s handler:

“Oska has been trained to indicate when he has located a whio. He may be in for quite a surprise on Saturday when faced with over a hundred blue rubber ducks.” 

Entries to the duck race are by gold coin donation and participants can vet the line-up from 10.30am at the Upukerora Park. The ducks will be released into the river at 11am, and the course will run from the gravel pits to the Upukerora Bridge. Race rules: first whio into the catching net wins.

The Great Fiordland Whio Race prizes will be sponsored by Real Journeys, who are working with DOC to help relocate whio from areas where they are breeding successfully to predator controlled areas where the populations need a boost. Prizes will include (for a family of four) a Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise, Te Anau Glowworm Caves trip and Walter Peak Farm tour.

The whio is the unique native duck only found in New Zealand’s fast-flowing waters. Featured on the $10 note and with an estimated nationwide population of less than 2,500 birds, whio are rarer than kiwi. Fiordland is home to a sizeable population of whio, and numbers are increasing in areas where pest eradication measures are in place.

Oska the species dog with a rubber blue duck. Photo: Andrew Smart.
Oska the DOC species dog meets one of the competitors for Saturday’s whio race

The support of Genesis Energy is enabling DOC to double the number of fully secure whio breeding sites throughout the country, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival for these rare native ducks. 

This year has been a bumper breeding season for whio, with more than 70 individuals bred in captivity being released into the wild throughout New Zealand. In Fiordland, a number of local whio translocations have taken place to ensure wild population numbers continue to grow.

Background information

Whio/blue duck 

  • The whio is a threatened species of native duck that is only found in New Zealand’s fast flowing waters. Featured on New Zealand’s $10 note and with an estimated nationwide population of less than 2500 birds, whio are rarer than kiwi.
  • Whio are adapted to live on fast-flowing rivers so finding whio means you will also find clean, fast-flowing water with a good supply of underwater insects.
  • This makes whio important indicators of ecosystem health – they only exist where there is high quality clean and healthy waterways.

Whio Forever

  • Genesis Energy has a strong historic association with whio through the Tongariro Power Scheme and in 2010 this association grew through the establishment of Whio Awareness Month (March).
  • Today, Genesis Energy and DOC continue their partnership through The Whio Forever Programme, which aims to secure the future of whio in the wild and ensure New Zealanders understand and value of whio in our rivers.
  • The support of Genesis Energy and the work of DOC has enabled the Whio Recovery Plan to be implemented.

Conservation

  • The whio are eaten by stoats, ferrets and cats, with the largest impact during nesting time when eggs, young and females are vulnerable, and also when females are in moult and can’t fly.
  • Extensive trapping can manage these predators and work in key whio habitats by DOC and Genesis Energy on the Whio Forever Project has already seen an increase in whio numbers.
  • Whio cannot be moved to predator-free islands like other species because of their reliance on large fast-flowing rivers.
  • Pairs occupy approximately 1km of water – so they need a lot of river to sustain a large population and they fiercely defend their territories, which makes it difficult to put them with other ducks in captivity.
  • They are susceptible to flood events which, destroy nests, fragment broods and wash away their valued food source. 

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