Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#Penguins injured by barracuda attack

February 3 2015
Wellington Zoo vet Lisa Argilla with the body of a rare yellow eyed penguin that died on an Otago beach this week.
Wilma McKay/ Fairfax NZ
Wellington Zoo vet Lisa Argilla with the body of a rare yellow eyed penguin that died on an Otago beach this week.

Endangered yellow-eyed penguins have been attacked by barracuda off the Otago coast, a vet says.
Wildlife veterinarian Lisa Argilla, working at a vet surgery in Dunedin during conservation leave from Wellington Zoo, has euthanised three of the injured birds in as many weeks. She has dealt with nine of the birds recently, spending hours patching them up.

The adult birds were particularly important to the survival of the species. "As chicks they have a low survival rate even after they fledge [and go out to sea to feed for the first time]. About 81 per cent of them never come back. They die at sea. Having got through that juvenile stage and survived and then started breeding, the adults need as much focused on them as possible."

Five of the birds had made it through surgery and are recovering at a rehabilitation centre at Penguin Place on Otago Peninsula, Argilla said. Two others had been sent to Massey University zoological centre Wildbase for further treatment. A bite injury left untreated would become infected and eventually fatal for the penguin.

The most recent patient and two others were euthanised because of severe injuries, Argilla said. "It's been pretty tragic to lose a few adults this year. This dude we've had to euthanize too. It's pretty sad."
Late summer is the time of year adult yellow-eyeds are foraging for food to feed their growing chicks.

The chicks will venture out of their nests and into the ocean on their own for the first time next month. Argilla said it was a good time of the year to carry out health checks on the birds. It was when they often need vet attention. "This is the first time they have needed this much veterinarian attention," she said."I haven't had to do surgery on all of them. But we've done surgery on six or seven birds now."

Yellow-eyeds, only found in southern New Zealand and further south,  were the most endangered penguin species in the world, she said. "There are probably less than 5000 of them left. So many things are going against them now so they're really just struggling. So, anything we can do to help them..."

Argilla was grateful to St Kilda Vet partner Tony Malthus, who carried out considerable wildlife work in the region, for allowing Argilla to "commandeer" his surgery during her time in Otago.


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