How does rubbish hurt the yellow-eyed penguin?
We don't have a lot of direct evidence about the effect of rubbish on yellow-eyed penguins, but we suspect that as with other marine wildife it could affect them through accidently eating items such as plastics, or getting entangled in rubbish. We do know that oil spills are a real threat, with several cases of African penguins being caught in oil spills off the South African coast.
What other things stop the yellow-eyed penguin from getting its food from the sea?
Getting enough food for themselves and their chicks is a constant concern for yellow-eyed penguins. This can be affected by changing weather patterns - for example the El Nino weather pattern. Over the last 60 years El Nino conditions have been increasing in frequency and intensity; this produces warmer sea surface temperatures in the southern oceans. The warm surface water prevents upwelling of the nutrient rich cold waters that fuel the plankton blooms and which ultimately feed the fish that the penguins like to eat.
What makes the feathers water proof? What doesn’t make the feathers waterproof?
Penguin feathers are amazing; they are short and stiff and have hooks that lock together with the surrounding feathers, producing the water proofing plus at their base are long downy filaments that further insulate the penguin from the cold by trapping a layer of air.
Anything that damages the feathers - like oil or other contaminants which interfere with the interlocking and the natural oils produced by the birds will mean that the feathers will lose their water proofing. If this happens the birds cannot return to the sea as they will get wet to the skin and very cold. There are techniques that can be used to clean the feathers of the contaminants and make them waterproof again - but this requires human help.
What happens to the yellow-eyed penguin’s partner when it dies?
The partner will normally seek another mate; yellow-eyed penguins are very faithful to their mates and at each breeding season over 90% of pairs will re-unite.
What happens to the babies if the parents die?
Unfortunately in most cases the chicks will die; if only one parent dies, the surviving adult will usually be able to raise the chicks on their own. Sometimes - if the chicks are very lucky and are noticed by conservation workers, they may be taken to rehabilitation hospitals and feed until they fledge and go to sea.
What sort of things are people doing to help the yellow-eyed penguin?
The Trust and other conservation organisations, especially the Department of Conservation works to help yellow-eyed penguins by protecting their habitat on land (buying land for reserves such as our new reserve at Long Point/Irahuka), trapping predators (stoats/ferrets/cats),planting trees and shrubs to improve the nesting opportunities and advocating for penguin conservation through making submissions on district & city plans & bylaws - for instance to seek the exclusion of dogs from beaches where penguins nest.
How had cutting down trees hurt the yellow-eyed penguin?
This can directly affect the penguins through being crushed as trees are felled or in the fires that were often set afterwards to burn the branches and foliage. At Te Rere in the Catlins, many yellow-eyed penguins were burnt to death in 1995, when a fire on a neighbouring property escaped and got into their nesting area.
Although yellow-eyed penguins are very adaptable and can nest in a small patch of flax on farm land, the Trust believes that it is more appropriate to plant trees and shrubs to recreate the kind of habitat they had available before humans started to change the landscape. This also benefits many other species of native animals that are found on the coast.
What threats are there?
Threats include predators such as stoats, ferrets and domestic dogs, habitat clearance and also threats at sea from the penguins own native predators (e.g. sea lions, sharks, barracouta). They also face threats from the fishing industry and especially the use of set-nets which can catch and kill penguins. Since 2008 the Ministry of Fisheries has put observers on inshore commercial fishing boats between Banks Peninsula and Fouveaux Strait, and each year there have been reports of penguins killed in set-nets.
Why do they have yellow eyes?
Scientist John Darby replies “ …the colour of the eye is a continuation of the colour band around the head. It is interesting to note that for the first year of their lives, yellow-eyed penguins do not have yellow eyes, (they are grey) and neither do they have a yellow band around their head. ….The colour yellow of the eye and feathers is caused by a chemical called carotene which is also high in vitamin A. On a daily basis, it is the pigment that gives the colour to things like carrots and tomatoes, but it is also found in small quantities in small sea creatures. A student at the University of Otago recently studied the importance of the yellow eye and feather colour in yellow-eyeds and found that those birds that had deeper yellow colour tended to rear more chicks than those that were very pale, which suggest that these birds were better at catching food than those with pale eyes…”