ADAM ROBERTS - The Nelson Mail
Last updated 12:30 04/12/2010
COLIN SMITH/Nelson Mail
A dozen of the birds have been found on Nelson and Motueka beaches in the past week.
Three were found yesterday, with two dead and the other taken to a veterinarian.
Natureland staff have set up a 24-hour critical care unit to look after the penguins, many of which were extremely dehydrated, underweight and without food in their stomachs.
Natureland operations manager Gail Sutton said the trend was concerning.
"If there's this many being found, how many aren't? What sort of hole are they putting in the population?"
It was still not clear why the penguins were being washed up in such a bad state, she said.
Vet Mana Stratton said the birds' condition could be due to a lack of food in the unseasonably warm water, but that was just one possibility.
Many people did not realise that birds did not show visible signs of sickness until their condition was severe, she said.
"If it looks sick, it's very sick.
"If you can walk along and pick up a little blue penguin, it is in a critical condition and needs immediate treatment."
Mrs Sutton said the public should bring affected birds to Natureland immediately.
"Treating these birds is a specialist job, and the sooner the birds get into Natureland's care, the better the chance of success.
"Any protected wildlife can only be held and cared for by those permitted to do so."
People should also be careful to keep their dogs on a leash when walking them at the beach, as they could disturb penguin nests, she said.