The group is trying to re-establish a colony of little blue penguins near Barney's Island, where a colony last thrived more than 30 years ago. Through some hard work putting in shelter for the penguins and monitoring their movements, the Big Rock Protect Our Penguins Group had counted about eight birds that returned to the area in the past two or three years.
Brighton resident Dave McPhee said five of those had been killed by dogs. Three birds were nesting at Brighton so far this year, and the group was seriously concerned about people ignoring the Dunedin City Council dog control bylaw prohibiting having dogs on the main Brighton Beach. ''We have major concerns about dogs decimating the penguins that are making a comeback when they have been absent for so long.
''There's heaps of signs up, yet people every day are on the beach with dogs. The irritating thing is people walk past the signs, read them and keep on going.''
Penguins were defenceless against dogs. If dog owners ignored warning signs there would be fatal consequences for penguins, he said. Dunedin City Council senior animal control officer Jim Pryde said the council worked with the Department of Conservation to catch offenders and follow up on infringements when dog walkers were caught in prohibited areas.
Owners would be fined $300 for breaching dog prohibitions, and Doc had the power to prosecute in cases involving an attack on a bird. He was aware that people were taking dogs on to the beach at Brighton, although no penguin deaths had been reported yet this summer. He urged dog owners to be ''extremely vigilant'' to any happening.
It was mandatory for dog owners to carry a lead when taking a dog on the beach, in case wildlife was present. He said Doc and the council could not be everywhere at once, and relied on the public to help.
If people saw dogs on beaches where they should not be, they should report the sighting to Doc or dog control.
Jotting down a few details could make all the difference if people saw a dog in a prohibited area or attacking wildlife. The public can report injured wildlife by calling the Doc hotline on 0800 DOC HOT, or report dogs on beaches to animal control, (03) 477-4000.