Yellow-eyed penguins could be wiped out in 25 years


Iconic Yellow-eyed penguins could disappear from New Zealand's Otago Peninsula by 2060, latest research warns.

Otago University director of wildlife management Phil Seddon said besides highlighting the state of the yellow-eyed penguin, the study also underlined the importance of long-term data sets. According to scientists, at the moment there are only about four thousand representatives of this species of penguins and environmentalists suggest that the species may disappear in the near future.

There are just 1,700 breeding pairs of yellow-eyed penguins left, making it one of the most endangered species of penguin in the world.

He said their predictions were conservative and did not include sudden shocks to the penguin population such as a "die-off" in 2013 when more than 60 penguins died.

In the study, researchers analyzed data on the number of yellow-eyed penguins over the last 35 years.

If the recent poor breeding years from 2013 onwards are included in the simulation, Dr Mattern says, things get progressively worse and the birds could be locally extinct in the next 25 years.

Because penguins are easily disturbed, there are several public viewing hides in New Zealand, including Bushy Beach, Katiki Point and Nugget Point Reserve.

But there are other factors to consider outside of climate change, and the scientists called for more research and environmental interventions to protect the native species from extinction. This information environmentalists have used to create a computer model of the population of all penguins in New Zealand and predict how its population will change in the coming years.

"It is sobering to see the previously busy penguin breeding areas now overgrown and silent, with only the odd lonely pair hanging on", yellow-eyed penguin researcher Ursula Ellenberg said in the Otago statement.

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A spokesperson said the department is engaging with the local Maori community, Ngai Tahu, to manage the yellow-eyed penguins.

"Yet despite being celebrated in this way, the species has been slowly slipping towards local extinction", he said.

Dr Mattern says only about a third of the drop in penguin numbers can be explained by climate change.

"The problem is that we lack data to examine the extent of human impacts, ranging from fisheries interactions, introduced predators to human disturbance, all of which contribute to the penguins' demise", said Mattern.

Another researcher, Phil Seddon, director of wildlife management at the University of Otago, says the project would need more time to study the data to see what is happening to the species, but unfortunately, it is time the species can not afford.

Seddon noted that in the current era of fast science, long-term projects had become a rarity.

Yellow-eyed penguins drown as unintentional bycatch in nets set in penguin foraging areas, and die from unidentified toxins, and suffer from human impacts on their habitat, the study's authors said.

The chances of seeing the penguins in the wild are quietly slipping away, the research said. They added that without immediate, bold and efficient conservation measures, New Zealand will lose the penguins from its coasts in a few years.