Did you find dead or dying penguins on the beach this summer? Sadly, the past summer saw many little blue penguins and other seabirds struggling to survive, with hundreds washing up on beaches throughout the breeding season, either dead or dying.
There are many theories about what happened and why, and because we were not prepared, we will never know.
Was it increased sea surface temperatures (due to La Niña conditions) affecting prey availability, with fish delving to deeper depths, resulting in penguin starvation?
Was it disease?
Was it plastic pollution, an increasing threat at all levels of the marine food chain?
There are many questions and few answers, as only a handful of penguins were examined via post mortem. We can do better.
Under the current laws in New Zealand, you are required to have a Department of Conservation (DOC) wildlife permit to handle protected species, even if they are dead. These laws are in place to protect both you and our wildlife. However there are people in your community who are authorised to handle protected species - your local bird rehabilitation centre.
The first step in being prepared is to have your local bird rehab centre details saved on your phone, so that if you come across birds in need you know exactly who to contact. You can find out who your local bird rehab centre is by enquiring with your vet clinic or DOC and you can find WReNNZ registered centres on WReNNZ site.
If there is no rehab centre in your area, then your first port of call should be your vet clinic or DOC. If you are a regular beach walker, be prepared to help if you find dead or live penguins and other seabirds. When you are walking along beaches, carry a cloth bag to collect an unwell bird if needed. The bag needs to be the size of a pillow case and porous enough for a bird to breathe through.
If you come across a dead or dying bird, the first step is to take a photo that will enable the location and species to be identified. Phone your local rehab centre and describe what you have found.
If the bird is alive, is it in danger from dogs, people disturbance, or an incoming tide? Let them know. They may then ask you to collect the bird and drop it off, or they may collect it themselves. If the bird is dead and the rehab centre does not have a need for the corpse, but the cause of death seems unusual or it is a rare species, then phone your local DOC office or the DOC Hotline on 0800 362 468.
The sooner an unwell bird is found, the greater the chance is that we can help it. If dead birds are found, then we have a chance to find out their cause of death - which is important when there are mass mortalities nationwide, like the summer just been.
Enjoy your beach walks and be a caring kiwi by making a difference! If you don’t come across birds that need a helping hand, you can always pick up some rubbish on your beach walk.
Rosalie Goldsworthy, Committee Member WReNNZ