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Day Two of Fieldwork

Day two of fieldwork here we go! What an amazing day we had out on the water. Today we were joined by Steve and Riley Hathaway from Young Ocean Explorers who were filming some awesome multi-species feeding aggregations in the Hauraki Gulf – Tīkapa Moana – Te Moananui a Toi.

Selfie of me in-front of a Bryde's whale poo patch
Selfie in-front of my first Bryde’s whale poop patch!

Today’s adventure started at 9am where we departed from Leigh harbour, it was a tad windier than we had liked but the water was crystal clear and we were excited for a day out on the water. Today was a quiet day out with only a few MSFA’s spotted.

From the prevailing weather forecast and work up predictions we decided to head towards Waiheke Island and the Noises Islands. Here we spotted our biggest work up of the day! Over 200 gannets and 20 dolphins were all feeding together in one big aggregation. We slowly approached the MSFA, following the low flying gannets to their lunch spot. What really excites me about these feeding aggregations is how different species and individuals work together to exploit a prey patch, with the underwater herding behaviours of the dolphins counteracting the vertical scattering effect of the plunge diving gannets. This dynamic aggregation eventually split into two, with the initial 200 gannet strong group splitting in half. Over time as the original patch of food reduced, the gannets and dolphins moved to the second group – highlighting how ephemeral and spatially dynamic these prey patches are.

The highlight of the day, however, was encountering two Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) and three poop patches! While these animals weren’t engaged in feeding behaviours it was still a cool sight to see! Whale poo is also a really awesome find because it can tell us a lot about a whales diet and health! Bryde’s whales are filter feeders which means they have a tendency to engulf microplastics – such as lint from our clothes and degraded ocean debris. Researchers from the University of Auckland use poo samples to analyse the amount of microplastics ingested by Bryde’s whales to estimate exposure risk and better understand the risk of micro-plastic ingestion by filter-feeders.

Unfortunately we didn’t have a whale pooper-scooper with us today but it’s bright pink colour tells us that shrimp was on the menu for this Bryde’s whale!

Can’t wait for our next field day out!

Until next time, sea you later!

Beautiful Bryde’s whale spotted near Leigh Harbour
Bryde’s whale poop patch

Protecting hoiho and pakake – a BLAKE ambassadorship

Kia ora! Ko Wednesday toku ingoa. Nō England ōku tīpuna. I tipu ake au ki Tauranga, e noho ana au kei Tāmaki Makaurau. Kia Ora! My name is Wednesday, and I am one of this year’s BLAKE ambassadors!

Image description: Wednesday wearing DOC overalls following hoiho check-ups at a coastal Otago monitoring site.

I am currently a Master’s of Science student at the University of Auckland researching the behavioural drivers of multi-species feeding aggregations in The Hauraki Gulf – Tīkapa Moana – Te Moanaui-ā-Toi. Under the supervision of 2018 BLAKE leader Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine, I use drones, artificial intelligence and on-board behavioural observations to research the fine-scale interactions between cetaceans, seabirds and their prey within ocean workups. I am an avid diver, adventurer and explorer and love spending my free time above and below our big blue backyard.

This summer, Giverny Forbes and I spent two weeks in Dunedin with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and one week in the Catlin’s with the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) helping with this year’s hectic hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) and pakake (NZ sealion) monitoring season!

Image description: Wednesday and Giverny pose in their BLAKE t-shirts besides a ‘sea lions next km’ sign in coastal Otago after a busy day sea lion monitoring.

In Dunedin, we worked alongside DoC coastal rangers Jim and Megan to learn a bit more about Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) and pakake (NZ sea lions) in the coastal Otago area. We joined them in the field, getting a unique hands-on experience and got up and close with some pretty impressive critters including hoiho chicks, pakake pups and plenty of kekeno!

One of my favourite experiences from this trip was helping to tag a gorgeous ~ two-week-old sea lion pup who Giverny and I fondly nicknamed Blake. Each season, sea lion pups receive health checks, flipper tags and microchips – these allow the rangers to identify individual sea lions and monitor population changes! While sea lions once spanned the entire coastline of New Zealand, they were reduced to just the sub-Antarctic Islands following intense harvesting and culling in the 1800’s. As their population recovers, the sealions are returning to mainland New Zealand. It is important to know who each sea lion is to monitor the health of the population and changes in their spatial range over time. Checking out where the sea lions are hiding their pups also allows rangers to work alongside Dunedin City Council to help manage the public through signage and road closures – reducing potential harassment to mama sea lions and pups by people and dogs.

Image Description: Young sea lion pup (fondly nicknamed Blake by Giverny and Wednesday) in Coastal Otago.

However, while the sea lion population is slowly increasing, the hoiho are rapidly declining. Reduced habitat availability, land predators, disease, overfishing of prey and bycatch risk are just a few of the impacts facing this critically endangered seabird. With only 200 left on mainland New Zealand and 2000 on sub-Antarctic islands, it is more important than ever to protect these seabirds. In Dunedin, we helped conduct nest checks, health checks on the chicks and even got to help transport a sick penguin from the wild to the rehab centre – Penguin Place! Like the sea lions, we helped to microchip and flipper band several chicks, allowing them to be easily identified when they return next season as juveniles!

Image description: Hoiho chick at the rehab centre Penguin Place, Dunedin.

In the Catlins, we worked alongside YEPT ranger Sarah to help with the 2020/21 hoiho season!  We joined Sarah in the field, getting a unique hands-on experience and got up and close with some of the local hoiho chicks! The Catlin’s is a stunning area of the South Island and hosts a huge range of biodiversity, including plenty of hoiho, kekeno and pakake! It’s rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches made some pretty stunning monitoring sites! 

Image description: A young kekeno (NZ fur seal) pup spotted in the Catlin’s.

While in the Catlin’s, we helped with a range of activities including weighing penguin chicks, recording health and microchip numbers, sampling and treating mosquitos in puddles and maintaining replanting areas! We learnt lots of new and exciting things while in the Catlin’s including how to search for mounting adult and juvenile penguins! While no penguins were banded or tagged on this trip, we helped set up trail cameras (small cameras which take photos when detecting movement) to check on the elusive parent penguins and check they were coming in to feed their chicks.

Image description:  Giverny Forbes helps to collect mosquito samples to test for avian malaria near hoiho nest sites in the Catlin’s.

Unfortunately, on our trip we also met a few underweight and injured penguins, these were sent to Penguin Place and the Wildlife Hospital, Dunedin respectively to be cared for until they are well enough to be released back into the wild. We also met a lovely volunteer who helped drive the penguins to the rehab and hospital centres, allowing us to carry on with our monitoring work without a long drive to Dunedin! One of my favourite experiences of our time with YEPT was helping to rescue an injured parent penguin with a severe foot injury; if we had not found this penguin it likely would not have been able to forage, feed its chicks and protect the chicks from potential predators. This rescue was a really fulfilling moment of the ambassadorship as we likely saved that penguins life and the life of its two chicks. 

Image description: A young hoiho chick with small amounts of brown down – soft baby feathers –watches as it’s siblings health checks are carried out. 

One of the biggest things I learnt while on my ambassadorship was the importance of community in the monitoring and surveillance of these critical species. It is the public, and community’s responsibility to give animals space and avoid harassing or disturbing them and report sightings of sick and injured wildlife to help DOC rangers find critters that need our help. As these species, particularly sea lions, recover, we need to learn how to coexist alongside them and reduce disturbance, predation and injury risk where possible. It takes a team to look after our species, and we can all do our part to help these species recover, through reducing our carbon footprint, reducing our plastic consumption and following all signs, rules and recommendations around interacting with wildlife. 

Image description: Giverny and Wednesday pose at a beautiful monitoring site in the Catlin’s.

Image description: Giverny and Wednesday pose at a beautiful monitoring site in the Catlin’s.

Can’t wait to see what the rest of 2021 brings!

Ngā mihi,

Wednesday

An important note: All photos and interactions with wildlife were done under the permission and guidance of DOC and YEPT. New Zealand’s native species are unique, precious and fascinating. It is important to respect wildlife, give them space (at least 50m is ideal) and avoid disturbing, stressing and harassing animals at all times. 

This blog is also shared on BLAKE New Zealand’s New’s and Articles page.

BLAKE Ambassadors: Day One!

What an incredible few days we have had! Over the past few days Giverny and I have been getting some awesome hands on experience and have met some of New Zealand’s special taonga! This week we have been spending time with Department of Conservation staff helping out with some Yellow Eyed Penguin (hoiho) and NZ Sealion (rāpoka) monitoring! 

We have been getting our hands dirty crawling through bushes, hiking up hills and clambering over boulders looking for hoiho nests and rāpoka pups. Once found, we have been recording the health of both the parents and the babies to make sure they are nice and healthy. Any sick, injured or underweight critters are then taken to the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital or the Penguin Place for specialist care!

Photo of me in a bush searching for Hoiho

Our first day at the Department of Conservation office began with a short introduction into DOC’s work, some of the critters we will be meeting and some health and safety work. After this house-keeping work we headed out with DoC Ranger Jim for our first day in the field!

Our first half of the day was spent checking up on the local sealion pups, including the infamous Harewa! Harewa reached international audiences when the Dunedin City Council temporarily closed off a section of John Wilson Ocean Drive at St. Kilda beach to allow the mama sea lion and her pup to reach the ocean safely. This sea lion has made herself at home at the nearby golf course and was spotted crossing the road to get to the beach and forage for food daily. Pups rely on their mothers for milk and protection for the first year of their lives and are particularly vulnerable to disturbance during foraging periods.

Sea Lion Infographics at John Wilson Ocean Drive, St. Kilda Beach.

Our next sea-lion that we met was called Gem! Like many sea-lions do, she was hiding her pup among coastal bushes and shrublands. While it looks like no-mans-land to many people, it’s a critical habitat for these threatened species. Sealions can be found in hills, forests and fields up to 400-600m above sealion, providing lots of range for DoC rangers to search through!

Our next task of the day was hoiho (yellow eyed penguin) monitoring! We were very lucky to spot 7 hoiho in one day! Hoiho, like the NZ Sealion, nest in dense coastal forests where the penguins live and nest. These birds are primarily terrestrial and only enter the water to forage for food such as fish, squid and crustaceans. We found two parents with their chicks at two different nesting sites. Since the parents were with their chicks we did not do any indepth health checks (i.e. measuring and weighing) to avoid stressing the parent penguins. A visual check suggested both chicks and parents were healthy so we continued on our trip, searching for other hoiho nests. The third hoiho we came across, however, needed a bit more care. It’s flipper band, a metal ring with an imprinted code, was partially open so we captured it and closed the band to ensure it wouldn’t get snagged on any branches or kelp.

Sneaky selfie while looking for hoiho!

Unfortunately, this penguin was also a little underweight for it’s stage of moult! When penguins enter moult they need to be a sufficient weight to ensure they have enough kai (food) in their bellies to last 3-4 weeks. During moult, their plumage is not waterproof and their body not well insulated – so they cannot go to sea to feed and often lose 3-4kg body weight. Because the penguin was underweight there was a heightened risk of starvation and dehydration.

We took this underweight penguin to the rehabilitation center “Penguin Place”. Here, the penguin will be given plenty of fish while it moults and then it will be released back into the wild.

Hoiho at ‘Penguin Place’ rescue center

Until tomorrow!

W

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BLAKE Ambassadors: A wee introduction

Kia ora! My name is Wednesday Davis and I am incredibly excited and honoured to introduce myself as one of the 2020/21 BLAKE Department of Conservation Ambassadors! A massive thank you goes out to BLAKE, Department of Conservation and the Yellow Eyed Penguin trust for making this opportunity possible.

How did I find myself here in Dunedin? I am a 23 year old Marine Science MSc student from the University of Auckland currently working on the behavioural drivers of multi-species feeding aggregations – primarily looking at seabird and cetacean interactions! I absolutely love the marine environment and love exploring and learning about our big blue back yard! Since learning about the BLAKE Ambassador programme in 2017 I have been dreaming about the chance to go – and this year I was lucky enough to be selected!

A couple of months ago, after sending through a long written application, getting an amazing reference letter from my supervisor and a very awkward pre-recorded interview, I received a call from BLAKE offering me the Ambassadorship! My buddy for the Ambassadorship is Giverny Forbes, another MSc student currently working on human interactions with leopard seals. I’m sure we will go on lots of little adventures while we are down!

I flew down to Dunedin from Auckland on Sunday 17th January. It was my first time flying since the COVID pandemic and everyone was masked up and using plenty of hand-sanitiser. While we were allowed to take off our masks to drinks cups of tea and eat snacks, we had to stay masked up for the full flight.

Me masked up on my flight!

Tomorrow will be our first day at the Department of Conservation and our first day in the field! Can’t wait to see what awesome critters, experiences and friends this ambassadorship will bring!

W

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Not-so-creature Feature: A corpse flower!

This summer I am spending 3 weeks in Dunedin with the Department of Conservation and Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust. On my first day in Dunedin I spent my afternoon exploring the botanical gardens and got to visit the beautiful corpse flower!

This rare giant, Amorphophallus titanum, in Dunedin is the southernmost flowering in the world! It’s rare flower reaches almost 3m in height and is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. This is the first flowering in almost 3 years (last flowered in 2018) and it likely won’t flower again for 2-3 years.

Corpse Flower, Dunedin Botanical Gardens

The bloom lasts for just 36-48 hours so I was very lucky to see it in action. This is my second corpse flower blooming I have seen, the first being Auckland Botanical Gardens collection in 2020 and now Dunedin Botanical Gardens in 2021! This is the second time this plant has flowered at the Dunedin Botanical Gardens – it arrived as a small golf-ball sized corm (tubular stem-like mass) weighing ~100g, or about the same as a banana. After 10 years, it grew to be 32kg and flowered it’s first flower in 2018.

This flower gets its name from the nauseating smell emitted during flowering. A smell so nauseating it has made people faint! While the plant spends most of it’s life as a large leaf with many leaflets, storing energy in it’s corm (stem-like mass) until flowering.

Corpse Flower, Dunedin Botanical Gardens

This smell attracts flies and other pollinators, moving pollen from one corpse flower to another. While the plant is native to Indonesia , it can be found in greenhouses all around the world.

I’ve got lots of critter photos to share so keep your eyes peeled for more Dunedin goodness!

W

Creature Feature: Little Blue Penguins

Meet the little blue penguin, also known as kororā, Eudyptula minor or the fairy penguin!

Rescued little blue penguin at Auckland Zoo, NZ.

These species are native to New Zealand and are also found in Southern Australia. These are the smallest of the penguin species and are primarily nocturnal, nesting in coastal areas and foraging within 25km of the shore. They are common in areas protected from disturbance and predators and many colonies are in decline due to predation by introduced predators.

Little blue penguins nest on land in caves, crevices and in a variety of man-made nesting boxes. Each breeding season, penguins are monogamous, sharing incubation and chick rearing duties for 18-38 days of brooding and 7-8 weeks before the chicks fledge. Chicks are easily identifiable from their small size and brown fluffy down feathers, recent fledglings are a bright blue colour dorsally.

One of my favourite fun facts about the little blue penguins is at they congregate in small groups offshore while foraging, known as rafts. These penguins forage both solitarily and in groups, with their prey consisting of small schooling fish, squid and crustaceans.

At Auckland Zoo, you can meet rescued little blue penguins which have withstood injuries which means they would not be able to survive in the wild.

Little blue penguin with missing flipper, Auckland Zoo.

More penguiny goodness is coming soon! My BLAKE ambassadorship starts in 2 weeks and I will be heading to Dunedin to play with little blue penguins!

Until then,

W

Kia ora, welcome to my blog!

Kia Ora! My name is Wednesday and welcome to my first blog post! I am a marine science student from the University of Auckland studying the foraging behaviours of seabirds and cetaceans! I can’t wait to share my masters journey, outreach, volunteering and adventures along the way with you!

Image description: me holding my bachelors degree in my living room

Over the next few months I hope to blog and blog my journey as a postgraduate student as well as the exciting things I get up to along the way! In January I will be going to Dunedin and the Catlins for 3 weeks working on sealion (rāpoka) and yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho) management and monitoring programmes! This BLAKE ambassadorship is an awesome opportunity to learn more about these amazing critters, develop my hands on science skills and share my experiences with others!

Why am I doing this blog? Firstly, I am super duper excited about this masters project and BLAKE ambassadorship and I wanted to make a platform to share my adventures, findings and the critters I meet with others. I am honoured to be selected for this Ambassadorship and extremely blessed to be working with Rochelle Constantine on my MSc research. As part of my career as a marine scientist I would love to be a science communicator and share the wonders of the oceans with others!

Here on my blog you will find photography, vlogs, info graphics and all the other exciting things I get up to along the way! I want to evolve this blog in a way that it helps me connect with others and share my marine-y things with others!

I can’t wait to share my experiences with you all and thank you for joining me on this exciting chapter of my life!

Sea you soon, Wednesday <><