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Bit of a breather . . . Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony science and environmental manager Dr Philippa Agnew is taking a small break, following a bumper season at the colony. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Little penguins are proving they can make a big splash.

It has been a record-breaking breeding season for little penguins in Oamaru.

At the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony and Oamaru Creek Reserve, 1206 eggs were laid and 914 chicks fledged.

It was the best season for both colonies since 2014.

Two-thirds of this season’s pairs produced a second brood which marked another record, Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony science and environmental manager Dr Philippa Agnew said.

The penguins made the best of the season – staff and volunteers were surprised each time they visited the nesting boxes.

“Generally, little penguins aren’t doing very well at sites where they are not protected, so this just highlights the importance of our site and others that show the same trend, because outside of these sites, they’re disappearing,” Dr Agnew said.

“We just show that where they’re protected, they can thrive. It feels like we can make a difference.”

The record-breaking season was attributed to the amount of food in the harbour, considering the season was steady from last May to last week.

Dr Agnew expected some of the chicks fledged at Oamaru would return as potential new breeders in a couple of years.

“[It] will mean a good conservation boost, so we might be building most nesting boxes in a couple of years time.”

Use of the colony’s rehabilitation centre had been low this season – three birds were on site at present, compared with nine birds at the centre this time last year.

It was a good indication things were going well, she said.

Two years ago, Dr Agnew undertook GPS tracking on various penguins to monitor their foraging behaviours leading into the breeding season.

During the “good seasons”, the penguins foraged early and close to the colony.

She intended to reinstate GPS tracking this year to understand what was happening in terms of their breeding.

There were still high numbers of penguins – between 80 and 120 – coming ashore each night and it was a good indication of how the next season could progress.

She intended to start tracking again after Easter to see if the same patterns were happening.

For now, she would take a “bit of a breather” and continue monitoring.