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Penguins Freed After Rescue From New Zealand Oil Spill

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First Rena penguins released. The National Oiled Wildlife Response Team, led by Massey University, released 49 little blue penguins at Mount Maunganui this morning. The release is a major milestone in the ongoing oil spill response to the Rena grounding, Maritime New Zealand says. The penguins released this morning mark the first major release of wildlife in a staged programme that will continue for the next few weeks. Team coordinator, Massey University wildlife vet Kerri Morgan, expressed her gratitude to the support they had received. “This has truly been a team effort,” Miss Morgan says. “We have had support from all over the country, and from our international colleagues. We have had an outstanding level of support from the local community. We’ve had so many people give up their time to help us care for the animals. “Also, beyond the wildlife team, it’s important to recognise that every person who has contributed to the oil spill response has also played a part in the release today. “The oil spill response teams have been working for weeks now to get the beaches to a standard safe to return the animals into – we also have to thank the salvors, the volunteers and the New Zealand Defence Force.” Miss Morgan says the birds had all been micro-chipped and would be monitored to see whether the spill

affects their long-term health. Maritime New Zealand director Catherine Taylor thanked the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team for its contribution to the overall oil spill response. The team is trained, managed and coordinated by specialists at Massey University. In addition to Massey staff, the team consists of other wildlife specialists and coordinators from the regions. This team is under contract to Maritime New Zealand to provide an oiled wildlife response in the event of a marine oil spill. Ms Taylor said the team had mobilised within hours of Rena grounding, and had very quickly established a facility for treating and housing the animals. “Rena ran aground seven weeks ago today,” Ms Taylor says. “The oiled wildlife response team has been working tirelessly since then to collect and care for the animals affected by this spill. “Their work has seen hundreds of birds rescued and nursed back to health, when otherwise they would not have survived.”  Ms Taylor says a large number of other agencies and individuals had been integral to the overall effectiveness of the response. “The local knowledge and expertise provided by Department of Conservation personnel has been invaluable to the response,” Ms Taylor says. The team has also been supported by wildlife specialists from around New Zealand and Australia, as well as US-based specialists from the conservation group International Bird Rescue and Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Wildlife release begins;  Staged release of some of the cleaned birds from the oiled wildlife facility at Te Maunga is starting this week, Maritime New Zealand says. National Oiled Wildlife Response team co-ordinator, Massey University wildlife vet Kerri Morgan, says birds would only be released after assessment of both the individual animals and their habitats. Each individual bird would undergo blood tests and other veterinarian checks to ensure it was ready for release. All birds would also have to pass the “six hour test” where they swim for six hours

without a break before being assessed to ensure their waterproofing was returned. “The oil coats the birds’ feathers, which are designed to act as a waterproof coat. After the birds are washed, they preen themselves and that helps the feathers regain their waterproofing,” Miss Morgan says. Birds that have been given the clean bill of health for release also have to be re-introduced to salt water. The pools the birds had been swimming in were fresh water, but to get the animals ready to return to the sea, salt was introduced into their pools over several days until they were swimming in water with the same salinity as the sea. The habitats that the birds are released into have been carefully checked to ensure they are ready to receive wildlife. Penguins and dotterels are territorial and will return to the habitat they came from. “It’s important that we’ve removed as much oil as possible from their habitats before they are released. “Each bird has been micro-chipped and the location they were found in noted – we will be releasing all the birds back to the habitat they came from,” Miss Morgan says.“We have been going out with the oil spill response teams for the past week or so to check that the places we want to return them to are ready.” Miss Morgan says although the risk of a further spill of the residual oil on board Rena was still there, this risk had to be balanced against the risk of keeping the birds in captivity for too long. “These are wild animals and they belong in the wild. We know there is still a chance that more oil may spill from Rena – but we don’t know when and we don’t know where that might wash up. “We can’t keep wild birds in captivity for an indefinite period of time without running the risk of disease or injury.” Miss Morgan says the first 60 penguins would be released tomorrow and it was hoped more would be released later in the week.“We still have birds that need to finish waterproofing, so the release programme will take a while yet.” The wildlife facility at Te Maunga would slowly be dismantled as the cleaned birds moved through the washing, re-waterproofing and salt water process and became ready for release. “We will maintain a few permanent structures there until Rena is off the

reef and there is no longer any risk of an oil spill from the wreck,” Miss Morgan says. “That way, we will be ready to rebuild the facility and mount a response if needed.” Wildlife ICU keeps penguins in top shape;  Most of the more than 400 birds at the Oiled Wildlife Facility are now in good health, but a small number require on-going veterinary care in the intensive care unit. Massey wildlife veterinarian Micah Jensen says there are eight little blue penguins in the unit that have a range of ailments. “There are birds that have picked up respiratory infections, one with a cloacal prolapse, another has a corneal ulcer,” Ms Jensen says. Birds in the unit are monitored closely. “We give them all checks every morning and evening,” she says. “They get excellent intensive care, as we are around the patients all day long.” Ms Jensen, who is one of four wildlife veterinarians in Massey’s resident programme, says the experience at the facility is invaluable. “As a wildlife vet resident it is intensely rewarding to do this kind of work,” she says. “The penguins are adorable, they are very full of character and are really nice to work with. Each one is quite individual and they are really personable, spirited and vocal. They let you know if you’re doing something they don’t like, there’s no grey area.” The vast majority of birds in the ICU are getting better, she says. “We are picking up problems at the beginning so are able to treat them early, which really helps. These birds are lucky to have skilled, observant people around them. “It’s a great feeling when a penguin is well enough to graduate to the outdoor aviaries.” News from: Massey University (Māori: ‘Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa’)

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