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Unusual weather conditions causing mass death among seabirds

Unusual weather conditions causing mass deaths among seabirds

Penguins, petrels and other seabirds are dying in large numbers and washing up on our shores, says the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Hundreds, if not thousands, of birds are likely to be found dead on beaches over the summer due to the La Nina climate pattern hitting the country this year.

DOC vet Dr Kate McInnes said that dead penguins had started turning up on northern beaches a few weeks ago, but the sad event is not over yet, and may lead to deaths around the country. Autopsies on the birds to date have confirmed that the birds are dying of starvation.

“Its not just penguins,” says Kate. “All seabirds are struggling to feed their chicks or get into breeding condition as a result of the La Nina climate pattern. It’s sad but it’s a natural event. It all points to a lack of small fish on which all these species depend to raise their chicks".

Grey-faced petrels, sooty shearwaters and gannets have all been affected.

The La Nina weather event is the biggest event of its type since 1975 and is characterised by stationary anticyclones east of NZ bringing calmer weather in the Spring.

“Calm seas stop the mixing of water columns making it harder for seabirds to find food,” says Kate. “Any seabird that relies on fish will struggle. People are going to want to help the seabirds but in the end it’s a natural event and there just isn’t enough food out there for the chicks to survive.”

Dr McInnes advises people finding seabirds to leave them alone this year.

“It’s extremely difficult to care for penguins and seabirds when there is no natural food available. Although a tough call, its best to let nature take its course,” she said.

“Although seabirds are going to have a bad time over the coming summer months throughout New Zealand, they had excellent breeding the previous summer season so population levels will cope in the longer term.”


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