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Busy season . . . Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony science and environmental manager Dr Philippa Agnew checks on a little penguin. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

It is a record year for little penguin breeding in Oamaru.

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony science and environmental manager Dr Philippa Agnew said 629 eggs had been laid already, 44 more than last year’s record total of 585.

The 216 breeding pairs started breeding in early May this year, compared with July last year, and 94 pairs were on their second clutch, another record for the colony.

“If they do start early, it means that they do fledge their chicks from their first clutch, have a bit of a break, and then lay more,” Dr Agnew said.

Breeding season would continue until December, with last chicks fledging in March, so she expected the numbers would rise.

“Each we week we are kind of blown away going we’ve had this many chicks laid’ and we are always super excited to monitor it.”

It was pleasing to see the resurgence of breeding numbers in Oamaru, since it was affected by a massive storm in 2015.

“It knocked them back and dropped, because the adult survival dropped by 20%, so it took a wee while to recover and these last few years are peaking.”

Warmer sea-surface temperatures were predicted for this year, but the cooler temperatures were more suited for blue penguins.

“We are keeping an eye on it with the changing sea conditions but it might mean maybe next year isn’t as good, but we can wear that if we’ve had a really bumper season this year.”

She put the increase down to the sea, as there were more fish, and the penguins were returning fatter.

“It’s across the board in this area; Tairoa Head is doing well, too.”

For once, it was not related to Covid-19 – the colony had eggs in May, straight after it reopened from lockdown.

However, Covid-19 had affected the number of people visiting the colony. But it was not as dire as first thought.

The colony recorded 1203 visitors in the July school holidays, 1239 in the September holidays, and 70 people visited last weekend.

“We are really, really happy with the support that we are getting from New Zealanders.”

Tourism Waitaki manager Margaret Munro said she was pleasantly surprised by the numbers, but said it was still a significant decrease.

“When you got outside of the school holidays … it’s dropped back,” Mrs Munro said.

“We’re not tracking too badly as far as it goes, but it’s nothing compared to the normal operation that we are used to – but it could be worse.”