“Quite frankly, the yellow-eyed penguins…are on their way out”
Conservation groups surveying the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou in New Zealand found that almost half the breeding population of yellow-eyed penguins — the world’s most endangered penguin species — has disappeared. Conservation groups like Forest & Bird and Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust believe that commercial fishing is the main culprit.
The yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho is native to New Zealand’s South Island and sub-Antarctic islands, where there are only 1,600-1,800 left in the wild, down from almost 7,000 seventeen years ago.
“Unlike previous years, where disease and high temperatures caused deaths on land, this year birds have disappeared at sea,” said Forest and Bird’s chief executive, Kevin Hague. He explained that the absence of predators could only mean that the cause of the disappearances was animals being caught and drowned in commercial fishing nets.
“There is an active set net fishery within the penguins’ Whenua Hou foraging ground, and the indications are that nearly half the Whenua Hou hoiho population has been drowned in one or more of these nets.”
“The trust has huge concerns for the future of hoiho on Whenua Hou given their rapid decline,” said Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust general manager, Sue Murray. “Our focus must be the marine environment where hoiho spend at least half of their life as it is unlikely that terrestrial impacts are a major factor in the decline here.”
University of Otago’s Thomas Mattern, a penguin expert, told the Otago Daily Times he believed time was running out for the birds.
“Quite frankly, the yellow-eyed penguins, in my professional opinion, are on their way out,” Mattern said.