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Blue Penguins, Oamaru

The Australian little penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae), also called the fairy penguin, is a species of penguin from Australia and the Otago region of New Zealand, one colony can be found in Oamaru, Otago, New Zealand called the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony.

During the 1860’s a quarry was built on the outskirts of Oamaru by the seashore, from which rock was extracted to build the Oamaru harbour. By the beginning of the 1970’s the quarry was abandoned and shortly afterward, the little penguins began arriving and taking up residence on the site.

The mayor at the time and some councilors wished for the penguins to be fenced off and this area to remain for commercial use, thankfully the Oamaru residents thought otherwise and petitioned the council to change course.

In 1992 The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony was established, with the vision being to create a building for tourists to allow visitors to watch the penguins, check out exhibits, and scientists to monitor the Penguins, and a building complex was built.

Once the Colony was established as a research site in the early 1990s, scientists replanted native grasses and trees in the former quarry and provided timber boxes for the penguins to nest in, this ensured higher breeding success.

A monitoring program was started in 1993 to check each nesting box in the colony weekly. This research helps with their understanding of the Blue Penguins.

The penguins have flippers for swimming and achieve a height of 30-33cm and an approximate weight of 1.5kg, average life span is 6.5 years although in rare cases may live up to 25 years in captivity.

They leave their nest at the colony in Oamaru in the morning, swimming and foraging for food during the day, and then return to their nests just after dusk. The birds usually come ashore in small groups, this provides some defense against predators, which might otherwise pick off individuals.

To keep themselves waterproof, they preen their feathers by rubbing a small drop of oil onto each feather from a gland above the tail.

Normally Blue Penguins are inshore feeders, and half of their dives are no more than two meters deep with an average diving time of 20 odd seconds. The penguins preen their mates which strengthens social bonds and helps removes their partner’s head where self-preening is extremely difficult.

In terms of reproduction, female penguins mature at the age of two years and males at three. Whilst breeding occurs annually, during spring and summer when there is an abundance of food, the duration and timing of breeding change depending on the site and location.

Blue Penguins are always at risk of introduced predators to New Zealand which range from cats, dogs, ferrets, rats &  stoats. The penguin colony at Oamaru has been a huge success since its inception, initial breeding pairs were 33 and this has since increased to 279 as of 2022.


Blue Penguin Colony


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