Researchers are now tracking every move of the young female Fiordland crested penguin spotted in Oamaru last week.
On January 28, Oamaru photographer Brenda Meuli captured a photo of a Fiordland crested penguin, or tawaki, on the rocks below the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony and alerted science and environmental manager Dr Philippa Agnew to its presence.
Last weekend, Tawaki Project co-leader Dr Thomas Mattern came to Oamaru and worked with Dr Agnew to fit a satellite tracker to the roughly 2.2kg bird, named Roxy .
The Tawaki Project is a long-term study of the marine ecology, breeding biology and population dynamics of the “world’s least-known, most enigmatic penguin species”.
Roxy is the first of 18 birds that will be tracked by Tawaki Project researchers this year.
“We want to compare the winter dispersal of tawaki that moult on the East Coast with those that moult on the West Coast,” Dr Mattern said.
Every year, several tawaki journey from their West Coast breeding grounds to moult along the East Coast after breeding finishes in late November and early December.
“Last winter, we tracked tawaki from Fiordland and Codfish Island and we had two leftover devices which we then put on birds in rehab in Oamaru,” Dr Mattern said.
“While the birds from the West Coast side all more or less showed the same behaviour, they headed straight southwest towards the Antarctic, those two from Oamaru headed southeast, right into the centre of the Chatham Rise .. against the current.”
Last year, the Oamaru birds, named Brad and Patricia, were fed throughout the moult and it was possible that had an effect on their behaviour when they returned to sea, because they did not have the instinct to seek out food, Dr Mattern said.
Roxy, who was not fed during the moult, was released on Sunday and by Tuesday had already travelled more than 70km. Another tawaki moulting in Oamaru at present will also be tracked.
Dr Mattern enjoyed following the birds’ progress via satellite trackers, which are updated every six to 12 hours.
“It’s way more interesting than social media,” he said.
“I keep refreshing our map here to see if we’ve got new data.”
The Tawaki Project relies on members of the public to report sightings of tawaki, and funding through private donations, using the subscription content service Patreon.
While he encouraged reports of sightings of tawaki, Dr Mattern, who is also the scientific director at the New Zealand Penguin Initiative, stressed the importance of not disturbing the birds during the moult.
“The last thing they need is someone trying to take a selfie with the bird in the background,” he said.
“We’ll only approach the bird to attach the satellite tag once the bird is ready to go, because they are so vulnerable.
“Keep your distance and please, please control your dog, because the penguins don’t have the energy to run anywhere.”