Penguin update – Wellington and Malborough news

Penguin update – Wellington and Malborough news

Since we blogged 2 weeks ago, the Te Papa team working on little penguins has started a second front of activity in Marlborough, based at Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound. Almost all of the birds from the Wellington Harbour nests have had their tags retrieved, and are going to either locations within the harbour or out to the areas around Pencarrow Head – Fitzroy Bay, or Baring Head – Palliser Bay. They’ve almost all put on a healthy 100-200 g while at sea (the largest weighed in at 1200 g on the return, having left its nest at just over 900 g).

Little Penguin track
A little penguin Eudyptula minor tracked during incubation from its nest in Evans Bay foraged within the harbour exclusively. Image Google Earth, Copyright Te Papa.

One little chap is still out, though, and enjoying itself in the waters of Palliser Bay. We’ve noted that once they make it to Pencarrow Head on the return trip, they get back to their nests within 12 h, so the next couple of days will be interesting to see where this one gets to. Its been dubbed “Storm-water Boy” after its choice of nest site, up a storm-water pipe on the western side of Evans Bay.

Little penguin track Wellington
A little penguin “Storm-water boy” is out to sea at present, foraging off the coast of the Wairarapa Lakes, and was at the left-most of the two spots noted “98702” at 11am on 29 Oct 2014. We’re waiting in anticipation for its return trip to re-catch the bird at the beach and take its logger off. The bird seems to have gone over the land at Pencarrow Head, but this is just due to error of a few km on the satellite locations. Some locations (e.g. the one far to the south) have larger error that we remove before doing our scientific analysis of the data. Image Google Earth, Copyright Te Papa.

We’ve also had great support from friends and colleagues around Wellington to spend evenings out around the bays of Wellington to catch birds as they come ashore or leave their nests to go to sea.

Penguins from Wellington nest sites are caught at the beach and have loggers retrieved. Photo Susan Waugh. Copyright Te Papa.
Penguins from Wellington nest sites are caught at the beach and have loggers retrieved. Photo Susan Waugh. Copyright Te Papa.


Caroline Bost, the French Intern working on little blue penguins, has headed off down to Marlborough, and started deploying loggers on penguins with chicks on Motuara Island last night. Already one has headed off into the Cook Strait. While most of the loggers we are deploying are GPS tags, and require downloading before we can find out where the penguins were foraging, there are two which transmit directly to satellite, and give us information about the birds trips while they’re still at sea. This gives vital clues about how long the birds are away from the nest for, and some of the areas they’re travelling through and foraging in.

Little penguin foraging track from Marlborough
Little Penguin track from a Marlborough Sounds breeding site, Motuara Island. Satellite telemetry shows the bird has headed out into the deeper waters from its breeding site, and was at this location at 11am on 29 Oct 2014. Image Google Earth, Copyright Te Papa.

Before leaving for Motuara, we were helped out by Department of Conservation’s island management experts in Picton, to carry out a thorough check of the field equipment to ensure no unwanted plants, insects or animals make it onto the sites they manage in the Sounds. This is a world-leading process, and our gear left Picton marina in cleaner-than-clean condition and packaged in rat-proof containers. We’ve had amazing help and support in Picton, with great community support from Te Atiawa iwi, and Dolphin Watch Ecotours who are providing transport for the team out to the island over the next two weeks.

Quarantine at DOC
DOC Officers (right and centre left)  inspect the equipment of the field team (Caroline, centre right, Blandine, left) as they prepare to depart to Motuara Island. The aim is to find any stray seeds, soil, insects or rodents that may be stowing away in field gear and pose a risk to the biodiversity of the reserves managed by DOC. Photo: Susan Waugh. Copyright: Te Papa

Check out for an update in the next few days to see what happens next to Storm-water Boy and where the penguin from Motuara Island gets to.

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