Penguins find safe haven in cosy cove

By Roger Moroney -
Penguin Cove, a new enclosure for Little Blue Penguins, at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, Marine Parade, Napier. Photo / Duncan Brown
Penguin Cove, a new enclosure for Little Blue Penguins, at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, Marine Parade, Napier. Photo / Duncan Brown

Had they remained in the wild, Elmo, Gonzo, Lulu and Gordon would have been long gone.

But yesterday, as the National Aquarium's grand new penguin "cove" was officially opened, they were full of beans ...well, herrings and pilchards actually.

The four penguins, known as "Littles" or "Blue", are part of a colony of 10 who have taken up home at the remarkable new open-air facility at the aquarium. They happily honked at each other, waddled across the soft white sands, and swam like little tubby torpedoes through their own private little ocean.

"They all have names," aquarist and keeper Becs Cuthbert said as she whistled to her little charges, who honked back.

"And they're all different. I can recognise them all."

A close look reveals many of the differences were brought about by misadventure.

Both Elmo and Gonzo were rescued after being entangled in fishing lines, with Gonzo having lost a flipper and his lower jaw.

Lulu is blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other, while Gordon was the victim of a dog attack after coming ashore to rest.

"In the wild they would have had no chance of survival, none at all," Ms Cuthbert said.

But being residents of Penguin Cove they now stand to enjoy a longer than usual life, as well as entertain visitors who will get their first chance to check out the enclosure for themselves when it is opened to the public at 9am tomorrow.

Aquarium manager Rob Yarrall said seeing the project come to fruition was hugely satisfying.

"It is a real asset and something we can all be proud of," Mr Yarrall said.

The design of the cove, which features rock faces with tiny caves for the occupants, as well as sandy beaches, logs, flax and rocks, and a large pool which has underwater viewing windows, was put together by the staff and based on the in-the-wild environment the little blues live in.

He said the penguins were moved in about a fortnight ago and had adapted to their new home and were "very comfortable" with it.

"Our little penguins will be great ambassadors for their species in the wild," he said. "People can come and look at them up close and get to know all about them.

"There will be talks by our penguin keepers three times a day, including a feeding time. This will be a chance for our staff to share information about how close little penguins live to us and how we can all help with their declining numbers by doing a few simple things."

The aquarium will be working closely with the Department of Conservation (DoC) to share the messages such as encouraging dog owners to keep their pets on leads at the beach and to contact DoC if members of the public ever find a little penguin that they are concerned about.

Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott was on hand to not only open Penguin Cove but also as a willing waiter by feeding some of the residents.

"It's great to have this new exhibit ready for locals and visitors to enjoy this summer and in years to come,'" she said.

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