Back to the sea: 49 little blue penguins released after rescue from Rena oil spill

News from Maritime NZ
Forty-nine little blue penguins were released on the beach at Mount Maunganui this morning, marking the first major release of wildlife from the oil spill in a programme which will continue for the next few weeks. The release was watched by 350 people. The birds have been micro-chipped and will be monitored to see whether the spill affects their long-term health.

The Director of Maritime NZ, Catherine Taylor, today thanked the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team for their contribution. The team is trained, managed and coordinated by specialists at Massey University. In addition to Massey staff, the NOWRT consists of other wildlife specialists and coordinators from the regions. This team is under contract to MNZ to provide an oiled wildlife response in the event of a marine oil spill.

Ms Taylor said the team had mobilised within hours of Rena grounding, and had very quickly established a facility for treating and housing the animals.

“Rena ran aground seven weeks ago tomorrow,” Ms Taylor said. “The oiled wildlife response team has been working tirelessly since then to collect and care for the animals affected by this spill. Their work has seen hundreds of birds rescued and nursed back to health, when otherwise they would not have survived.”

Ms Taylor said a large number of other agencies and individuals had been integral to the overall effectiveness of the response. “The local knowledge and expertise provided by Department of Conservation personnel has been invaluable to the response. The team has also been supported by wildlife specialists from around New Zealand and Australia, as well as US-based specialists from the conservation group International Bird Rescue and Oiled Wildlife Care Network.”

NOWRT coordinator Kerri Morgan echoed Ms Taylor’s gratitude. “This has truly been a team effort. We have had support from all over the country, and from our international colleagues. We have had an outstanding level of support from the local community. We’ve had so many people give up their time to help us care for the animals. Also, beyond the wildlife team, it’s important to recognise that every person who has contributed to the oil spill response has also played a part in the release today. The oil spill response teams have been working for weeks now to get the beaches to a standard safe to return the animals into – we also have to thank the salvors, the volunteers and the New Zealand Defence Force.”

PHOTOS from Maritime NZ – click on them for larger versions



  1. Rosalind, 23. November 2011, 16:48

    There is absolutely no guarantee that these birds have been ‘nursed back to health’, and the international peer-reviewed scientific literature indicates that it is unlikely. Some overseas studies have shown massive (>90%) mortality of de-oiled seabirds AFTER release. Oil ingestion has long term progressive effects that often lead to liver failure or kidney failure months after the ingestion. The stress of being captured, cleaned and then abruptly released often leads to severe immune suppression that in turn leads to aspergillosis (a fungal infection) of the lungs, which is fatal. Even among seabirds that do return to their colonies after being de-oiled, many never breed again. How is it humane to release these birds to die slowly and painfully in the wild of pulmonary aspergillosis, liver failure or kidney failure? What tracking is being done to see if the birds survive, and to pick them up and humanely euthanase them if they are not thriving? No competent scientist would release the birds without fitting each one with a tracking device.
    For those who want to argue the facts, it is only fair to warn you that the writer is the only Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology in New Zealand, and that is the only specialist qualification in veterinary toxicology recognized in New Zealand (or in the USA).

  2. Rangjan, 24. November 2011, 12:29

    Rosalind, your concern is touching but the report makes it clear that the birds have been micro-chipped and will be monitored over the coming weeks, months and years.

  3. Rosalind, 24. November 2011, 16:29

    Okay, I missed that. It will be interesting to see how many survive, what the non-survivors die of, and whether any at all return to breeding. The results from overseas oil spills are extremely discouraging. No de-oiling effort of seabirds anywhere in the world has ever saved enough birds to make a difference to the health of the population of that species in the area, because so many die after release, and those that don’t die, seldom recover sufficient health to breed.
    Putting a small number of individual birds through the enormous fear and stress of being handled and cleaned, for no benefit to their species as a whole, seems highly debatable from the humane point of view. The numbers of penguins that have survived thus far are already too low to make a difference to the local population of penguins, even if they all return to breeding, which is unlikely in the extreme.

  4. Rangjan, 24. November 2011, 20:44

    I suggest you read some other reports. This is just the first batch of oiled penguins to be released.
    Also, while there have been many problems in the past we need to keep learning from our experiences and keep improving and trying our best. What’s the alternative: give up?