Blue penguins are out in force with the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony having recorded its best breeding season.
In the 2014-15 breeding season 406 chicks were born, well up on the colony’s previous best of 367 in 2012 and last year’s figure of 272.
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony research scientist Philippa Agnew said the number of penguins came as a bit of a surprise.
“We were hopeful of a good number of new baby blue penguins being fledged, but we were a little bit shocked when we counted up the figures and they came to 406.”
Breeding time for the penguins is from May to September and the the reason why there was a large number of new penguins this year is because of the number of couples breeding and how early they bred.
“The large numbers come down to the fact that many of the breeding couples bred in June so it meant there was time for them to breed again, which was great because it’s increased the numbers.”
Miss Agnew said the increase in blue penguins breeding was a fantastic to see.
“It’s definitely great to see the penguins returning.
“Sometimes they seem to fluctuate a little bit, but hopefully the upcoming breeding season will be as healthy as the one just gone.”
A major factor behind the penguins having returned to breed was that there were plenty of fish around, Miss Agnew said.
“Fish numbers have been good, so it’s meant there’s food around for the penguins.”
While the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony was thriving, some of the penguin bases further south were struggling, she said.
“I’m not sure about Bushy Beach and the Oamaru Creek, but slightly further south penguin numbers are declining, so it’s great to see ours remaining strong.”
Weekly monitoring of penguin numbers was introduced in 1993.
Tourism Waitaki general manager Jason Gaskill said he was delighted to see penguin numbers in the area increasing and more couples breeding.
He credited Miss Agnew and the colony staff with the success.
“I cannot commend Philippa and the monitoring staff enough on the work they have done, and that they continue to do. Their work is crucial to the success and longevity of the penguin population in the area.”
Some penguins had begun moulting, which was expected last until the end of the month.