22 November 2011

Penguins rescued from Rena to be released

NEW ZEALAND - Maritime New Zealand has announced that some of the cleaned little penguins and other birds rescued from Rena oil spill will be returned home in a staged release starting this week.

National Oiled Wildlife Response Team Coordinator Kerri Morgan said birds would only be released after assessment of both the individual animals and their habitats.

Each individual bird would undergo blood tests and other veterinarian checks to ensure it was ready for release.

All penguins would also have to pass the “six hour test” where they swim for six hours without a break before being assessed to ensure their waterproofing was returned.

“The oil coats the birds’ feathers, which are designed to act as a waterproof coat. After the birds are washed, they preen themselves and that helps the feathers regain their waterproofing,” Miss Morgan said.

Birds that have been given the clean bill of health for release also have to be re-introduced to salt water.
The pools the birds had been swimming in were fresh water, but to get the animals ready to return to the sea, salt was introduced into their pools over several days until they were swimming in water with the same salinity as the sea.

The habitats that the birds are released into have been carefully checked to ensure they are ready to receive wildlife. Penguins and dotterels are territorial and will return to the habitat they came from.

“It’s important that we’ve removed as much oil as possible from their habitats before they are released.

“Each bird has been micro-chipped and the location they were found in noted – we will be releasing all the birds back to the habitat they came from,” Miss Morgan said.

“We have been going out with the oil spill response teams for the past week or so to check that the places we want to return them to are ready.”

Miss Morgan said although the risk of a further spill of the residual oil on board Rena was still there, this risk had to be balanced against the risk of keeping the birds in captivity for too long.

“These are wild animals and they belong in the wild. We know there is still a chance that more oil may spill from Rena – but we don’t know when and we don’t know where that might wash up.

“We can’t keep wild birds in captivity for an indefinite period of time without running the risk of disease or injury.”

Miss Morgan said the first 60 penguins would be released tomorrow and it was hoped more would be released later in the week.

“We still have birds that need to finish waterproofing, so the release programme will take a while yet.”
The wildlife facility at Te Maunga would slowly be dismantled as the cleaned birds moved through the washing, re-waterproofing and salt water process and became ready for release.

“We will maintain a few permanent structures there until Rena is off the reef and there is no longer any risk of an oil spill from the wreck,” Miss Morgan said.

“That way, we will be ready to rebuild the facility and mount a response if needed.”

Rena update #105, 21 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand

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