Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Zealand’s Worst Maritime Disaster

On October 5, 2011, a Greek-owned container ship, MV-Rena, ran aground on Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty off the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The ship was carrying 1,300 containers of cargo (some containing hazardous materials) as well as an estimated 600,000 gallons of heavy fuel. At present over 100,000 gallons have spilled from the crippled ship onto New Zealand beaches while salvage crews are racing to get the remaining fuel and cargo off the ship before the weather changes and the ship breaks up.

MV Rena
Credit: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

The Bay of Plenty, named by explorer James Cook in 1769, is as its name suggests: an area of abundant natural resources and species. The area is home to many species of seabirds including little blue penguins and the endangered New Zealand dotterel as well as seals, whales, dolphins and many coastal fish species.

Little blue penguin
Credit: Blair Harkness

New Zealand dotterel
Credit: Chris Gin, via Wikimedia Commons

So far over 100,000 gallons of fuel has hit the local beaches and is now cleaned up due to the hard work of volunteers. Over 1,200 birds have been found dead and another 200 are being treated at a rehabilitation facility set up by Massey University.

Beach cleanup
Credit: New Zealand Defense Force

The big fear now is that if all the fuel is not pumped off the ship before it breaks up on the reef there will be more environmental damage.If you would like to view up to the minute reports about the spill and the salvage process check out the Maritime New Zealand web site. WWF-New Zealand is also involved in the spill recovery and fundraising efforts.

The penguin team is hoping for positive salvage efforts and the avoidance of more environmental damage from the Rena. Fingers crossed.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

FAQ: Where do the penguins sleep at night?

To a human the six fiberglass islands in the penguin exhibit don’t look very comfortable, but to a penguin they are heaven. But you still may wonder, “Where and how do the penguins go to sleep at night?”

Penguin islands

The penguins stay on exhibit overnight and sleep right on the islands. They can even sleep while floating in the water. During a visit to the Aquarium you might catch a glimpse of the penguins taking naps during the day. They can sleep either lying down or standing up on the rocks and sometimes when they are standing up they will tuck the beak under the wings.

Asleep laying down

Asleep standing up

That’s not a headless penguin; he just has his head tucked behind his wing.

When it’s time for the lights to go off we even simulate sunrise and sunset. The exhibit lights are on a timer so they turn on and off at designated times of the day based on local sunrise and sunset times. This is called a photoperiod. The penguin exhibit day lengths vary depending on the season (longer days in the summer and shorter days in the winter). This helps the penguins maintain a healthy life cycle that will cue them into their breeding and molting seasons. {link to breeding and molting blogs}

Pleasant dreams!

- Andrea