Little blue penguins native to New Zealand have been washing up dead on the country’s beaches, in what experts say are more frequent mass die-offs amid changing climate patterns.
Hundreds of lifeless birds have been found in northern New Zealand since early May, though the exact number is difficult to determine and reports are still coming in, said Graeme Taylor, principal science adviser at the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
The penguins, also known as korora, were tested for diseases and biotoxins, but appeared to have died from starvation, Taylor said.
“All the birds were at least half the normal weight, they had no fat on them at all and their muscle tissue had wasted away.”
It is not unusual for seabirds to die off in large numbers because of severe weather, conservationists say. But mass deaths among little blue penguins, which used to take place about once a decade, have now happened three times in six years, Taylor said.
Experts in New Zealand, where the little blue penguin is considered “at risk,” expected a mortality event this summer due to La Niña, a climate pattern that affects weather around the world and typically occurs every three to five years.
The ongoing event is favored to continue through the end of the year, according to forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This puts it on track to be the third consecutive fall and winter season with La Niña conditions, a rare occurrence.
Hundreds of dead Little Blue #Penguins have been discovered on New Zealand's northern coast since May. Kororā is the world's smallest penguin, and experts have found that #climate change plays a major role behind their deaths. pic.twitter.com/BQp4WZkaY9
— BeijingNews 新京报 (@BJNewsWorld) June 17, 2022