Rare Antarctic penguin washes up in New Zealand

Antarctic penguin
An Adélie penguin – native to Antarctica – has been found 3,000km from home on a New Zealand beach. Photograph: Allanah Purdie/Department of Conservation

A rare Antarctic penguin has traversed 3,000km of icy waters.  It finds itself far from home and on new and puzzling shores: the south-eastern coastline of New Zealand.

The Adélie penguin is affectionately named “Pingu” by locals. It was spotted looking somewhat lost at Birdlings Flat, a small settlement on New Zealand’s South Island.

It’s only the third recorded instance of a live Adélie penguin – a species that makes its home on the Antarctic Peninsula. Its arrival is a reminder of the threats the birds face from warming waters, increased competition over food supplies, and changing habitats.

After observing, the penguin was not getting into the water. It also could be vulnerable to dogs, locals called Thomas Stracke of Christchurch Penguin Rehabilitation.

Stracke said when he arrived with a vet, he was shocked to find an Adélie penguin. Stracke said,

“Apart from being a bit starving and severely dehydrated, he was actually not too bad, so we gave him some fluids and some fish smoothie.”

The penguin was released into a bay on the bank’s peninsula, where his helpers hope he may be able to make the journey home. “I would have preferred to get him on the Hercules [air force plane] that drops staff at Scott Base,” Stracke said, but he was told by the Department of Conservation that the idea was not feasible. “They had a meeting with the other big penguin guns and they said no.”

New Zealand’s populations of yellow-eyed penguins were also struggling as they competed with fishing businesses for food and the rehabilitation center was seeing increasing numbers of malnourished or starving penguins come in, he said, calling the situation a “nightmare”.

However, global heating is affecting Antarctic penguin habitats in uneven and sometimes unpredictable ways. In some areas, sea ice is expanding, but in other crucial areas, it’s decreasing.