Date: 09 November 2012
Two yacht-based wildlife expeditions are heading to Campbell Island and the Auckland Islands to conduct the first-ever comprehensive survey of yellow-eyed penguins in the subantarctic. The Department of Conservation led expeditions are expected to depart from Bluff on Tuesday 13 November if weather conditions are suitable.
'The aim of these trips is to carry out the first-ever simultaneous count of hoiho on both Campbell and Auckland islands', says Jo Hiscock from the Department of Conservation. 'The subantarctic is a stronghold for this species, and we want to get a better picture of how big the populations are, as we know very little about them.'
Story continues below image
Yellow eyed penguin in rata forest, Auckland Islands
The yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho is found only in New Zealand, and is one of the rarest penguins in the world. There are just over 500 breeding pairs on mainland New Zealand, and it is thought that there are over a thousand breeding pairs in the subantarctic.
'It is very difficult to survey yellow-eyed penguins on these remote islands. They don't live in large open colonies like Antarctic penguins do. The only way to count them is to find a headland with a view of a stretch of coast and watch as the birds come and go from the sea in the early morning,' says Jo Hiscock. 'We know from previous research that the yellow-eyed penguins in the subantarctic will be sitting on nests incubating eggs at the moment, and this is the best time of year to conduct a survey. But it's going to be a challenge getting ashore, especially if we have strong winds and rough seas, which are very common down there.'
'It's critical that we know how well yellow-eyed penguins in the subantarctic are faring,' says Sue Murray, general manager for the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. 'They are very isolated, but isolation doesn't guarantee safety. The more we know about them, the better we will be able to ensure their survival.'
As well as counting penguins the Campbell Island expedition will be using a trained rat dog to check that the island is still rodent-free. A trained teal dog will be used to find rare flightless Campbell Island teal, which were reintroduced to the island in 2005 after Norway rats were eradicated.
The Auckland Island expedition is led by the Department of Conservation's Jo Hiscock with support from the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. The 12-person team, which includes six paying volunteers, will sail on the 25-metre yacht Evohe, skippered by Steve Kafka.
The Campbell Island expedition is led by Department of Conservation's Contractor Sandy King from Stewart Island. The 6-person team will sail on the 15-metre yacht Tiama, skippered by Henk Haazen.
- The most recent survey of yellow-eyed penguins on Campbell Island was in the early 1990s. In the late 1980s the Auckland Islands were partially surveyed, and in 2009 a joint Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and Department of Conservation expedition identified possible yellow-eyed penguin breeding sites at the Auckland islands – this information will be used to identify where penguin counts will be carried out this month.
- Although intensive management, including predator trapping and habitat restoration, has seen yellow-eyed penguin numbers on mainland New Zealand rise from a critical low in the early 1990s, their numbers still fluctuate from year to year as a result of disease and food supply.
- Stewart Island/Rakiura and its surrounding islands are considered to be important breeding sites, but recent work by the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust has identified a worrying decline in breeding success there.
- In 2010 the total number of yellow-eyed penguins was estimated between 1464 and 1704 pairs (Department of Conservation).
- The Auckland Islands lie at latitude 50 degrees south, and they are 460 km south of Bluff.
- Campbell Island lies at latitude 52 degrees south, and they are 660 km south of Bluff.
- Both yachts and their skippers are veterans of the subantarctic.
- The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust is a Dunedin-based conservation group that focuses on the protection of yellow-eyed penguin breeding sites along the Otago and Catlins coasts.
- Six volunteers are joining the Auckland Island expedition come from a range of professions, including a retired engineer, a real estate agent and a funds manager, but they share an interest in the subantarctic, conservation and history.
Media are welcome to come to the Department of Conservation quarantine store (65 Eye St, Invercargill) between 2 and 2:30 pm on Monday 12 November.
There may be a short time when media could visit the team aboard Evohe while they prepare to depart. Both expeditions are busy with briefings and quarantine checks on the Monday, and they set sail on Tuesday morning (weather dependant).