Hundreds of Dead Penguins Washing Up Daily on New Zealand Beaches

Hundreds of dead little blue penguins, also known by their Māori name, kororā, have been washing up on beaches in New Zealand as scientists speculate what could be the cause.

In the Far North District of the country, the native penguins have been turning up dead all over the long stretches of beaches, where experts have been counting and estimating that at least 200 have been washing up on shore every day.

An expert, Vaughn Turner, told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on Monday that he has walked the stretch of Ninety Mile Beach and counted the birds.

"There were quite a few which seemed odd, so I thought I'd start counting them to see how many there were," he said.

Little Blue Penguins runs towards the se
Hundreds of little blue penguins in New Zealand have been washing up dead on the beaches as scientists cite climate change and rising sea temperatures as the cause. Above, penguins run towards the sea at Mount Maunganui Beach on December 8, 2011. Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images

Turner told RNZ that he counted 75 dead penguins over 10 kilometers, which is roughly six miles. The next day, he said he counted 71, and by the third day he counted 59.

The birds have reportedly been showing up on the beaches since early May when RNZ reported that a local in the area, Carol Parker, discovered several bodies of the little blue penguins while walking on Tokerau Beach.

"The very next day we were on Tokerau Beach where there were 22 penguins that were on the beach expired," Parker told the news outlet at the time. "Some of them looked like they just landed just the night before or within the last 12 to 24 hours. They looked quite fresh. There was one or two other birds also that were dead."

Experts in New Zealand have deduced that the rise in kororā deaths is due to increasing sea temperatures. Graeme Taylor, who works with New Zealand's Department of Conservation, has said that many of the penguins that have been examined show signs of starvation and hypothermia.

"Normally a penguin of this type is around about a kilo, but a lot of these really starving birds are down around half that weight, you know, 500-600 grams. They're just skin and bones. They've got no fat on their body which they need, they're in the water the whole time," Taylor told The New Zealand Herald last month.

A spokesperson from the Department of Conservation told Newsweek on Monday, "We have had reports of dead little blue penguins/kororā on Northland beaches since early May. It is a seasonal event due to La Niña conditions. This brings increased sea-surface temperatures and onshore winds to New Zealand. These conditions can make it more challenging for kororā to nest and feed."

The department has warned that these are alarming signs of climate change, and other species are potentially feeling the effects as well.

"In the past, you might have had a lot of good years followed by one bad year where a lot of birds die, but then they rebound in those good years," Taylor told the newspaper. "But if we start to see the balance tipping towards more bad years versus good years, then they're just not going to be able to recover."

In its statement to Newsweek, the Department of Conservation also said: "We ask that people leave dead penguins on the beach where they lie, to be washed out to sea or to decompose naturally."

Update 6/13/22, 4:30 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information.