Dr Brett Gartrell, second from left, shows iwi representatives through the Oiled Wildlife Facility.


Penguins prepared for release

About 80 of the little blue penguins at the Massey University-led Oiled Wildlife Facility in Tauranga are being prepared for release, although it is not yet known when that will happen.

A total of 408 birds are currently being cared for at the centre and are faring well in waterproof testing, but Wildlife Centre manager, Massey wildlife vet Dr Brett Gartrell, says none will be released until habitats are cleaned to an appropriate level.

“At this stage we have around 40 staff caring for the birds at the centre and another 25 out in the field,” he says. “We are currently assessing birds’ waterproofing and most are doing very well in this regard.”

Waterproof testing involves observing birds in a water tank over a six-hour period and is important in ensuring birds have healthy plumage to keep cold water away from their skin. This enables them to maintain healthy body temperatures.

They are also checked to make sure they are of a sufficient body weight and their blood values have returned to normal.

“We will stay at the Centre for as long as it takes and at this stage we are planning for another one to two months. The bottom line is that we will not be releasing any birds into oiled habitats,” he said.

The 80 birds were also being returned to salt water in preparation for release. “They have been kept in fresh water up until now as salt water is difficult to dispose of,” Dr Gartrell says.

“We are starting to add salt to the water now and will slowly bring it up to the same level as sea water, which will get the birds’ salt glands working. Penguins can also develop conditions like conjunctivitis if they are returned to salt water too quickly.”

Dr Gartrell says he expects the team to stay at the wildlife centre for up to two more months.


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