Otago’s South Island, once filled with the rare yellow –eyed penguin has almost completely emptied with only the “odd lonely pair” spotted on the island.
Lead researcher Dr Thomas Mattern is worried about the future of the penguin:
The situation is all but lost, but we need to act and we don't have much time, If we don't figure out how we can avoid these mass mortality events, then my gut feeling tells me that the yellow-eyed penguins will be gone by a lot sooner than 2060; so 2040 or 2050.
Image: Distribution of the yellow-eyed Penguin, source: Wikimedia Commons
The penguin’s numbers have been dwindling since the 1990s when the population dropped from 600 to 200 on the Otago Peninsula. The penguin’s demise appears to be a result of climate change and there's little the local area can do to immediately protect the species. However, there may be a way to reduce external factors that are triggering their dip in numbers.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, the yellow-eyed penguin
We can think about how we can mitigate the impact of fisheries, mitigate human disturbance on land and mitigate the impact of predators.
The importance of the penguin to New Zealand’s identity is clear. Not only did the Penguin once feature on the five dollar note but it has also contributed 100 million dollars to Dunedin’s economy.
It's not something we want to lose because we can't be bothered doing something about it.
Using 35 years’ worth of data from the Otago peninsula to compare, researchers established that sea surface temperature was the main and direct influence on the penguin’s numbers. Professor Phil Seddon director of Wildlife from the University of Otago said without the 35 years of collected data scientists would still be “at a loss” as to why the species is disappearing:
In the current era of fast science, long-term projects have become a rarity. Without more than 35 years' worth of penguin monitoring data we would probably be still at a loss as to what is happening to a national icon
A study published in the journal PeerJ concluded that without immediate intervention the penguin would face extinction in our lifetime.
“Without immediate, bold and effective conservation measures, we will lose these penguins from our coasts within our lifetime.”
Header: Wikimedia commons