Science, research and monitoring
A variety of research projects have been undertaken to learn more about the yellow-eyed penguin.
Conservation Science Advisor
In February 2016, the Trust was externally resourced to employ its own Conservation Science Advisor, a new role and one that will help us advance the aims of the organisation.
The Conservation Science Advisor will provide technical advice and information to the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and will collaborate in investigating the marine environment.
Based both at the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and Otago Museum the Conservation Science Advisor will identify, stimulate, broker and analyse research that investigates the marine environment, and factors affecting the productivity and sustainability of the yellow-eyed penguin. This role focuses on detailing research evidence to inform the decisions of the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust in delivering optimal species management.
It was timely that funding allowed for this appointment to begin given the serious concerns for the yellow-eyed penguin breeding success and the uncertainty surrounding the cause of such low breeding numbers over the past two seasons.
The Trust is delighted to announce that funding was secured from Otago Regional Council (70%) and the balance from Otago Museum, for a three-year term of appointment.
GPS data loggers
We know little about the habits of yellow-eyed penguins at sea. Today, with the aid of modern satellite technology, studying penguin behaviour at sea through miniature GPS logging devices attached to their backs has opened a new window of opportunity to examine all aspects of the penguins’ biology.
The devices are attached using adhesive cloth tape, which allows for easy detachment without causing any damage to the penguin’s plumage. The loggers record the penguins’ dive depths at given intervals (usually 1 second) as well as their geographical position after each dive. Because the average battery life of a GPS logger is approximately three days, only short-term research is conducted.
By studying the foraging behaviour of yellow-eyed penguins breeding at locations with different oceanographic features, we may shed light on a greatly unknown component of their biology. This will allow better understanding of the species’ population status, and development of customised management strategies for the species’ different habitats.
Lance Richdale began marking yellow-eyed penguins in 1936, utilizing leg rings, followed in 1973 by Alan Wright (NZ Wildlife Service) using the first flipper band on fledging chicks at Penguin Beach, Otago Peninsula (first band J-1053). From 1973-1981 single stainless steel flipper bands were applied to the left flipper, but from 1981 this was changed to the right flipper under new guidelines from the National Banding Office.
Richdale utilized bands to “recognize individuals” and established much of the basic population biology and behaviour of the species. An extensive and valuable research programme at Boulder Beach on the Otago Peninsula has seen the penguin population marked with bands for 30 plus years.
In the past, the Trust assisted the Department of Conservation to mark penguins, using stainless steel flipper bands, on its Tavora and Otapahi reserves. But the bands have now been suspected of causing injury through abrasion and entanglement, and also of negatively affecting foraging performance of some individuals and penguin species. They also require ongoing checking and maintenance. Debate on the possible impact of flipper banding continues in the scientific literature. This led the Trust to ask the question Are other forms of individual identification and in particular transponders, a viable alternative to flipper bands?
The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust now uses transponders to mark fledging yellow-eyed penguin chicks at all its reserves. A transponder, a tiny microchip embedded in glass, is inserted under the skin with a needle, at the back of the neck. It is scanned using a handheld or wand reader.
Marking the penguins with transponders therefore offers significant advantages. Monitoring is also extremely accurate and usually less intrusive, especially when the long wand reader is used.
Data gathered from the penguins marked with transponders will continue to be contributed to the Department of Conservation’s yellow-eyed penguin database, and will enhance the Trust’s understanding of yellow-eyed penguin populations and their dynamics, including key issues such as recruitment.