05 May 2011

Poor food availability caused penguin deaths

NEW ZEALAND - The Department of Conservation (DOC) has received the necropsy results from Massey University for little penguins washed up dead on East Coast beaches in late April. The answer: La Nina strikes again.

According to DOC, the penguin deaths are consistent with a prolonged period of starvation and exposure.

Jamie Quirk, Ranger, Biodiversity Assets, said that eighteen little penguins from two different sites including those found washed up at Waihau Bay were tested.

"A good cross-section of the population were tested: eight adult females, five adult males and five sub-adults (sex undetermined)," he said.

The experts at Massey concluded that twelve died of starvation and emaciation, five died of starvation, emaciation and exposure and one died from exposure, hypothermia and an infection. No food was found in the stomachs of any of the birds. Penguin health is measured as a body score with a maximum of nine; the body score for twelve of the penguins was 2/9 and the remaining six scored 3/9.

"The penguin deaths are linked to the La Nina weather patterns which have reduced the amount of baitfish available. The empty stomachs and low fat reserves leading to low body score are the result of this poor food availability," said Mr Quirk.

The dead penguins were examined after East Coast residents raised the possibility that seismic testing being carried out in the region by oil company Petrobras was the cause.

Read related post: Is seismic testing to blame for penguin deaths?

Results received for penguin deaths on East Coast beaches, 4 May 2011, Department of Conservation

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