10 Facts You Didn't Know About Little Blue Penguins/Kororā
The little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor/kororā) is the world’s smallest penguin, and you can see them right here in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.
1. They are the smallest penguin in the world, weighing only just over 1kg and standing at only 25-35cm tall! In Australia, they are referred to as fairy penguins, due to their small size. They are the only species of penguin that we see in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, and they are quite common in most areas of New Zealand and Australia.
2. According to local legend originating in Russell in the Bay of Islands, the Māori name kororā came from an instance where a wounded Māori chief there asked for some penguin soup and at the first taste of the broth he exclaimed ‘Ka reka te Kororā!’ which means ‘how sweet/tasty is the penguin’.
3. They were first described in 1781 by German naturalist and Royal Society scientist Johann Forster, who gained prominence by being the naturalist on James Cook’s second Pacific Voyage (along with his son Georg) which circumnavigated the globe.
4. Though predators like feral dogs and cats, foxes, stoats, and rats have posed a risk to penguin colonies, there have been some extraordinary measures taken to help recover their populations. When the penguin colony on the nearshore island called Middle Island in Warrnambool, Victoria was at the brink of collapse due to foxes, conservationists deployed highly trained Maremma sheepdogs to protect the penguins and deter foxes, and the strategy was a success! The first sheepdog was called Oddball, and a movie was even made about him in 2015. The program is ongoing, and now many generations of sheepdog have successfully protected the recovered colony there.
5. Their small paddle-like flippers can propel them through water quite gracefully at speeds of around 6km/hr, with dives as deep as 35 metres.
6. These penguins are vulnerable to oil spills, both as it acts to reduce their preferred prey items, and as a toxin which they ingest while attempting to clean their coats of it. The oil prevents them from drying properly, which puts them at risk if temperatures cool at night. In 2015, in an effort to protect them from the oil and the cold, the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation in Australia put out a call for keen knitters to make sweaters for their population – and the call was answered! Even Australia’s oldest person at that time, Alfie Date, was knitting sweaters at 109 years old for the population there! The program was a success, and the sweaters prevented many penguins of ingesting the toxic oil until volunteers could clean and release them.
7. When birds come ashore to build nests, they may waddle up to 1.5km inland, climbing up to 300m to find the perfect nest site. This means that it’s not entirely impossible or uncommon to come across a penguin wandering in the bush, especially on the South Island!
8. Their breeding season is during spring and summer, and they are the only species of penguin which are capable of producing more than one clutch per breeding season, though they rarely do. Clutches are usually only 1-2 eggs, and chicks fledge (gain adult feathers and leave the nest) after only 7-8 weeks
9. With coastal development reducing viable nesting area for these penguins, multiple sites have trialled artificial ‘nest boxes’ made of wood or other materials with much success. At Oamaru, it was actually found that penguins prefer nest boxes to natural nest sites, and reproductive success in the boxes is high. In addition, the boxes provide an easier way to observe nesting pairs, and increase overall nest numbers at a given site.
10. In 2020, a live stream of the inside of an artificial nesting box allowed viewers to experience the entire breeding season from August to December, when the chicks fledged and left the nest. This stream was facilitated by the Kapiti Coast Biodiversity Project and Groundtruth, with support from DOC and Air New Zealand, and they hope to run the stream again to gain support for conservation efforts.