Dead oiled wildlife continues to be collected from Bay of Plenty beaches, and the Te Papa Natural Environment team has been assisting with the Wildlife Recovery Centres activities of documenting and recovering species affected by the oil. The species found oiled include the many birds which nest in the Bay of Plenty: most birds returned are from locally common seabird species – Common Diving Petrel and Fluttering Shearwater – the latter a New Zealand endemic species. Aside from these local birds, there are species which breed far further afield, such as the Buller’s Shearwater (from Poor Knights Islands in Northland); the giant petrels from sub-Antarctic sites (some breed in New Zealand but also found around the Southern Ocean), and Blue Petrels likely to be from the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean. The one Wandering Albatross recovered last week has been identified as coming from a population outside of the New Zealand region, as its body measurements match Indian Ocean or Atlantic Ocean populations, and not those of the smaller-sized southern New Zealand (Antipodes and Auckland Islands) populations.
The grim job of sorting through the 1250 or so dead oiled birds returned to the centre by last weekend has to be put into perspective within the very positive atmosphere at the Wildlife Recovery Centre in Tauranga. It has been an amazing operation to be part of. Each hour throughout the day, volunteers, who’d been searching beaches under the wildlife recovery scheme being run by Maritime NZ, arrive with bags and boxes of animals, alive and dead. The Centre is incredibly well run and the spirit of cooperation is very strong. The purpose of ensuring good outcomes for the wildlife affected reigns on the site. The area houses many marquees and structures to enable the washing, feeding, and monitoring the penguins, shags and shore birds which are being recovered to health.
We worked mainly in the Post-Mortem tent, alongside Veterinary Scientists from Massey University, to identify, and categorise dead wildlife into groups by species and breeding status, and to ascertain how the birds had died. It is a sort of grim zoological forensic study, but done with the intention of finding out as much about the species’ origins (type of bird and population of origin) as possible, to track potential population impacts later on. When the Post-Mortem tent got too much for us, it was a welcome respite to poke our heads into the “Penguin Tent” and witness the fiesty little fellows in their blue tuxedos getting ready for their sardine smoothies. Even more entertaining was seeing the penguins go for their rostered swims in the exercise pools, watched over by their wardens, some of whom had heavily taped fingers as a preventative measure against the damage than can be inflicted by little penguin beaks.
I was very touched by the generosity of the Tauranga locals, when stopping for a much needed cuppa in the Mess Tent, to see piles of plated muffins and other tempting morsels, with messages of support sticky-labeled on the food-wrap encouraging us “Keep up the good work” and “For all those hard working wildlife volunteers”. The centre even had recycling facilities for the waste.
Te Papa has supplied some critical expertise to help a diverse group of professionals and volunteers in the Wildllife Recovery Centre, as our most expert scientists in bird identification are needed to work out which species are which among the oiled dead birds. Our retired curator of birds, Sandy Bartle, along with current curators Colin Miskelly and Alan Tennyson have all played important roles. We will continue to work alongside Massey University vets to cover the wildlife identification activity.
Susan Waugh, Senior Curator Natural Environment.