02 November 2013

West Coast little penguins tracked by satellite

NEW ZEALAND - The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust is undertaking a pilot programme to see where little blue penguins go to find food.

The study will use Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking technology to monitor the penguins as they head out into the Tasman Sea to find food for their chicks. Eight tiny GPS units were attached to blue penguins at Charleston in October and their foraging journeys can now be mapped.

The pilot study is the start of a three-year programme. It's the first of its kind undertaken by the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust and the first time blue penguins have been tracked on the West Coast. The goal is to build a more complete picture of penguin foraging patterns over time.

Breeding pairs take turns to go out fishing and will typically head out to a known food source, where they will fish for about 24 to 48 hours, and sometimes longer if needed. One of the first penguins at Charleston to go out with its GPS receiver didn’t return for four days. Another travelled nearly 30km off the coast, swimming a surprising 90km in total over one day.

Penguins will eat mainly small fish and squid, however the weather as well as water temperature may make their preferred food more difficult to find at certain times of the year.

“We would like to find out if penguins are targeting specific locations, and if their food supply is limiting a population recovery,” said Reuben Lane, the Trust ranger who led the study.

The data will eventually be compiled and analysed to gain a better understanding of what penguins need to thrive.

Mr Lane went to the research facility at Penguin Place on Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia earlier this year to learn how to use the GPS units. Slightly smaller than a matchbox and weighing only a few grams, the GPS receivers are attached to adult breeding penguins with special waterproof tape, so they won’t affect the penguins’ ability to swim. 

Satellite tracking for West Coast penguins [media release], 31 October 2013, West Coast Blue Penguin Trust

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