19 Jul 2017

Dogs, development create 'dire' situation for penguins

10:19 am on 19 July 2017

It's a tough life for urban-dwelling little blue penguin sharing their world with people.

This year in Wellington alone at least 10 penguins have been killed, by cars, dogs off the leash and other means.

The Department of Conservation said dogs were a growing problem around the country and not just for penguins but other marine species, such as sea lions and fur seals.

Just this month two Little Blue Penguins were killed by dogs in Whitireia Park in Porirua.

Mike Rumble heads the Eastern Bays Penguin Project, a volunteer project which looks after the Days Bay Penguin Haven where there are 20 nest boxes placed strategically by the sea to try to prevent the penguins from crossing the road and getting killed.

A member of the Eastern Bays Penguin Project, with one of the little blue penguins at the Days Bay haven.

Mike Rumble from Eastern Bays Penguin Project with one of the little blue penguins at the Days Bay Penguin Haven. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

He said the big issue with penguins was that if one adult is killed, it has ramifications for the family.

"The surviving one has to find another mate and if you get both penguins ... well, that's the end of that family for good."

In the past three weeks, three penguins have been killed on the road next to the haven.

"The number of penguins left is gradually declining and so what we need to do now is to help stop that by encouraging people to take greater care."

Mr Rumble said one of the penguins was found in the middle of the road, rather than in one of the lanes, meaning it could have been deliberately hit because penguins freeze under headlights.

Some of the 20 nest boxes for little blue penguins at the Days Bay Penguin Haven.

Some of the 20 nest boxes for little blue penguins at Greta Point. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

It was a similar situation across the bay, at Greta Point in Wellington.

Karin Wiley from Places for Penguins described the situation for the creatures as dire.

She said while dogs and cars were a problem in the area, the penguins were also rapidly losing their habitat.

Ms Wiley said many penguin nests had been discovered by a trained penguin detecting dog, but the city council had plans to develop Wellington's coastline about which little was known.

"Those natural nests are all in areas where the council are wanting to beautify our city with massive pedestrian cycle way paths suspended out over the coastline," she said.

Ms Wiley said there was not enough data to show what was happening with the population, and it was difficult to know how the council projects could affect the penguin population in the area.

Some of the 20 nest boxes for little blue penguins at the Days Bay Penguin Haven.

Nest boxes for little blue penguins at the Days Bay Penguin Haven. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

The penguin volunteers are trying to raise awareness of how people are hurting populations of urban little blue penguins and are planning to bring the detector dog back to the Wellington region in September and October.

The Hutt City Council will also be putting further signs up around Eastbourne to remind people they are sharing the environment with little blue penguins.