Waiheke’s little blue penguins given helping hand

rescued little penguin
© Native Bird Rescue Trust
Success Story

WWF-New Zealand, in partnership with the Tindall Foundation, is providing Native Bird Rescue with almost $15,000 to support the charity in its vital work to rehabilitate and release little blue penguins (kororā) for the Auckland and Hauraki Gulf regions.

In the last month a spate of chicks have been found starving or dead on the island, with Native Bird Rescue currently rehabilitating the eight surviving penguins.

Two of the penguins, Waddles and Aroha, were discovered at only two weeks-old, emaciated and starving. They’ve made a remarkable comeback and are set to be released with the other birds.

Populations of these little blue penguins are declining around the country, with the birds threatened by overfishing and the impacts of climate change. Rising sea surface temperatures make their food supply more sparse and drive the fish they feed on into deeper waters where they cannot catch them.

Mass mortality events, where thousands of kororā wash up and die on beaches, used to happen about once a decade – but because of climate change, they’re happening far more frequently.

WWF-New Zealand’s CEO, Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb, visited the rehabilitation centre on Waiheke Island to see first-hand how the staff and volunteers are nursing at-risk chicks back to health.

“Kororā are some of our most-loved native birds, but they face an uncertain future, with the warmer waters caused by climate change and overfishing pushing their food out of reach and impacting their ability to feed their chicks,” says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.

Little blue penguins also face many other human-induced threats, including habitat loss; overfishing by commercial and recreational fishers; sedimentation from development runoff; and pollution. Populations are also threatened by predators like dogs and cats.

“WWF is thrilled to support Native Bird Rescue in their fantastic work to rehabilitate kororā on Waiheke Island and educate Kiwis on their plight,” says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.

“These volunteers do an amazing job of saving these penguins and work night and day to nurse threatened kororā back to health. But they can’t do it alone - and if we don’t see the Government take urgent action to tackle climate change and better protect Aotearoa’s marine habitats, our native kororā - the smallest penguin on Earth - don’t stand a chance.”

The rehabilitation process at Native Bird Rescue’s centre on Waiheke Island is an intensive one – with the birds tube-fed anchovy smoothies via a syringe five times daily. Once the penguins have enough strength they are then moved from critical care to a rehabilitation habitat where they do physiotherapy and swimming to prepare them for life in the wild.

About 150 penguins have been admitted to Native Bird Rescue over the seven years the charity has been operating. 

The charity is volunteer-driven and offers a bird rescue and care service for protected birds 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Through the Community Conservation Fund, WWF-New Zealand, in partnership with the Tindall Foundation, supports communities and educational facilities like Waiheke Native Bird Rescue to run projects that conserve and restore Aotearoa New Zealand's natural environment and the native species in these habitats.

Kayla and Karen with recovering juvenile penguins