A team from the West Coast Penguin Trust headed over to Oamaru in early May for the biennial penguin symposium, delayed from last year due to Covid.

The event comprises nearly two days of presentations.  This year, the first day focused on yellow-eyed penguins or hoiho as well as new research on tawaki, adélie penguins and brown skua.  A wide range of research and practical projects are underway to understand and better protect the hoiho.  There is widespread concern that they could become extinct on the mainland in the next twenty years or so.

We learned about the critical nature of engaging with policy makers to facilitate conservation and strengthened networks to do so more effectively.  Probiotics and rescue strategies were reported as well as the use of trail cameras to validate breeding behaviours.  A recent invention by penguin scientists Ursula Ellenberg and Thomas Mattern, PenguCam, is giving valuable new insights into the foraging behaviour of hoiho and tawaki.  Have a look at some snippets here.

Robin Long presents at the Oamaru Penguin Symposium

Our Trustee and Tawaki Ranger, Robin Long, presented on her tawaki survey work on Stewart Island.  She surveyed a section of coast in northeastern Rakiura in 2019 and Port Pegasus in 2020, finding many more penguins through her knowledgeable and courageous search efforts than were previously thought to breed there.

On day two, little or blue penguins or korora were the topic of the day.

With the very sad headlines about a marina development coming into conflict with local people trying to protect the environment and blue penguins in particular lately, it was encouraging and inspirational to hear about the marine cultural health programme at Napier Port.  This is a partnership between mana whenua hapū and Napier Port to monitor the health of the marine environment in and around the Ahuriri/Napier area and includes a penguin conservation programme, connected with the local community and schools.

We heard from penguin detection dog handler, Alastair Judkins, about his work with Mena to better ascertain the distribution and abundance of blue penguins, including his work on the West Coast last year.

NZ Penguin Initiative’s Richard Seed, with whom the WCPT is doing a lot of work on blue penguin monitoring, presented on the foraging/GPS study here on the coast, and he introduced the new korora monitoring programme and database, of which we are very proud to be a part.  The lack of consistent data gathering and a centralised database was identified as a gap in the State of Penguins 2018 study, ‘Current knowledge and research priorities’ by Thomas Mattern and Kerry-Jayne Wilson.

And our Education Ranger, Lucy Waller, presented our education programme, explaining how she uses penguins to connect children to nature, conservation and ecology.  There was plenty of interest in her talk, our resource and the possibility of sharing our resource with other groups.

Lucy Waller presents at the Oamaru Penguin Symposium

These symposia, presented by the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, are an incredibly useful way for the WCPT to keep up to date with science and to build and maintain relationships across the broad spectrum of NZ penguin research, conservation and rehabilitation.  We connect with scientists, other community groups and rehabilitators.  Our grateful thanks go to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony’s Scientist, Dr Philippa Agnew, for another superb symposium.

These symposiums are for anyone interested in penguin science and conservation, not just those working and volunteering in the field.  If you’re interested in the programme and the abstracts for the 2021 programme, have a read here.