True blue, born in Oamaru

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Blue penguin chicks have started hatching at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, the first of more than 200 likely to emerge from their eggs this season.The first chick was born in mid-September, and another eight have since hatched.More than 170 eggs, being closely tended by 92 breeding pairs at the colony, have been laid since the end of July.Colony research scientist Dr Philippa Agnew expects between 200 and 250 eggs will be laid before the end of breeding season in late December.”Every year is really, really different for the penguins, but that [200-250 eggs] would be about the average.see over 300 eggs. It depends on when they start laying.”In her research, Dr Agnew said she found certain weather patterns, such as storms, could have an impact on the timing and number of eggs laid by blue penguins.”When they lay is related to storm events. That can upset their breeding and if there is an event that churns up the sea, you see a reduction in the number coming ashore to breed.”For the seven to nine weeks before the chicks hatch, parents take turns sitting on the eggs while their partners search for food.Once the chicks fledge, at about eight weeks, they head out to sea on their own.Dr Agnew said they were left to fend for themselves and had “no training” from their parents.Meanwhile, a purpose-built underpass under Waterfront Rd has been completed, so penguins can safely move from the water to their nests.The world’s smallest penguins are faced with crowds of people and a regular flow of traffic near the boat ramp where they emerge from the sea and penguins have occasionally been killed by vehicles or harassed by onlookers.While the underpass has been built, fences still had to be placed on either side of the underpass to guide penguins to the entrances.”It means they won’t have to cross the road at night in front of traffic,” Dr Agnew said.”We’ve had this issue of people, penguins and traffic using Waterfront Rd.”The idea is to get the penguins off the road so they can get to their nests without disturbance.”Construction was also under way on a $660,000 project to expand the penguin colony’s visitor centre and build a new research centre.”It will mean we will be able to get our research out to the public … they will see they’re not just coming to view penguins, but to fund conservation projects. They’re contributing directly to that,” Dr Agnew said.”We’ll be able to create really interactive displays and update them on a regular basis.”

The colony, which attracted more than 70,000 paying visitors last year, will stay open to visitors during the work.