15 Oct 2011

1000 birds found dead since oil spill

9:55 am on 15 October 2011

One thousand dead birds have been found since the Rena oil spill began off the coast of Tauranga.

The stricken ship ran aground on Astrolabe Reef on 5 October and has spilled up to 350 tonnes of heavy oil, polluting the ocean and washing up on Bay of Plenty beaches and a nearby island.

Kerri Morgan, co-ordinator of the emergency wildlife response team in Tauranga, says they are now trying to capture birds before they get oiled and 24 penguins have been caught so far.

The wildlife facility is caring for 110 birds affected by oil, most of them penguins.

The wildlife team has also captured 25 rare New Zealand dotterels to protect them from the oil.

The team is aiming to capture 60 of the 100 dotterels known to be in the Bay of Plenty region - of a total population of about 1500 around New Zealand.

A special aviary is being built at the wildlife facility for them.

A marine biologist with the World Wildlife Fund, Bob Zuur, says shags, diving petrels and penguins have had the highest mortality rates so far, being vulnerable because they spend a large amount of time in the water.

Mr Zuur says the number of dead birds found so far is only a fraction of the actual toll.

About four seals have also been cared for at the wildlife centre.