08 April 2011

Positive news for Tristan's oiled penguins

The first treated penguins walk back
to their home. Photo by Katrine Herian/
TRISTAN DA CUNHA - Some good news to report for the penguin rescue operation following the oil spill around Nightingale Island, with the first rehabilitated penguins released back into the wild, the arrival of a team from SANCOBB and vital penguin-cleaning equipment, and the setting up of several funds to help with the emergency.

First Tristan penguins released from rehab

The first 24 northern rockhopper penguins of more than 3,600 admitted to the "rehab centre" on Tristan da Cunha were released back to sea on Sunday 3 April.

"The penguins were selected from the strongest ones, with no visible oil on their outer plumage," said Trevor Glass, Tristan da Cunha Conservation Officer. "Of the many tested to see if they were ready for release, only 24 had perfectly waterproof plumage."

"It was an emotional moment to see these penguins released from captivity and walk into the sea and then swim off among the waves," said Katrine Herian, the RSPB Project Officer on Tristan da Cunha. "The Tristan islanders are putting hundreds of hours of their time into saving the oiled penguins and we hope these are the first of many to be released".

On arrival on Tristan the penguins are stabilised and kept indoors in the rehab shed, after which the fittest ones are moved to an outside pen. From here the cleanest and strongest ones are moved to the island’s swimming pool, which is refilled daily with fresh, unchlorinated water.

So far, 3662 oiled penguins have been admitted to the rehab centre. Since the first batch of 500 were admitted on 23rd March, only 373 have died in rehab, which is a survival rate of 90%. About 25% of the penguins at the centre are currently in the release pool.

SANCCOB team arrives with vital people and equipment

There are still many oiled penguins which require urgent washing. A team from SANCCOB arrived on the tug Singapore on Tuesday 5 April, bringing the specialised equipment and materials needed for cleaning the penguins, as well as vital vitamins and medicines for the rehab centre's intensive care unit and frozen pilchards to feed the penguins. Their arrival had been frustratingly delayed by rough seas.

The SANCCOB team were impressed with the set up at the rehab centre and praised the islanders’ efforts under difficult conditions and with very limited resources. 

The specialist cleaning equipment will be put into the wash-bay facility, which will be housed in two government containers close to the rehab shed. Hot water geysers, to remove the heavy bunker oil, will be installed for the penguin-washing operation, and infrared lights will be installed in a drying room. Outside, large tanks will collect and separate the waste-oil/solids and grey water from the washing process. SANCCOB logistics manager Mariƫtte Hopley reported the washing facility would be up and running on Friday, when training would begin for islanders in the washing of penguins.

Funds set up to help the penguins

Thanks largely to the efforts of the Ocean Doctor, Dr David Guggenheim, the penguin rescue operation has been picked up by the US media, including CNN, which interviewed Dr Guggenheim (see below) and ran a story on 3 April. The more attention the media give to their plight, the more help the penguins will get!

There are now several funds set up to help with the rehabilitation of the penguins and other wildlife affected by the oil spill:
I realise these are tough economic times for many of us, but if you can spare even a small amount of money to help the penguins, the people working hard to save them on Tristan da Cunha will certainly appreciate it. 

Read related posts

First Tristan penguins released from 'rehab' by RSPB, 5 April 2011, Birdlife International
MS Oliva oil spill at Tristan da Cunha finally hits the headlines - funding urgently needed for oiled penguin rescue operation, 4 April 2011, The Penguin Lady Blog
Oliva Tristan Diary, Tristan da Cunha Association: accessed 8 April 2011 

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