Thursday, 21 January 2021


Where will they go?

This month, ecological consultancy Wildlife Management International Limited (WMIL) will begin tracking 10 flesh-footed shearwater chicks as they depart the breeding colony on Ohinau Island, east of Opito Bay, and set out on an extensive migrating journey.

WMIL is dedicated to research and nature conservation. For more than 30 years they have been working to monitor, protect and manage natural ecosystems in New Zealand.

Nearly a quarter of the world’s seabird species breed in New Zealand - more than anywhere else on Earth. They are considered a taonga (treasure) in Maori culture. Seabirds spend most of their life at sea and introduce rich marine nutrients to the soil. This helps to keep New Zealand land fertile.

In the last 50 years, global seabird numbers declined by around 70 per cent.

Ninety per cent of seabird species that breed in New Zealand are considered at risk and 55 per cent are considered threatened by extinction. This is due to a loss of places to nest introduced predators, and injury and death caused by recreational and commercial fishers.

The flesh-footed shearwater is a seabird the size of a small chicken, with a wingspan of over one meter. They breed on small islands around the North Island and off the coast of Australia, where they burrow into the ground to make a nest.

The birds are thought to be declining and are ranked as nationally vulnerable.

WMIL have been studying the flesh-footed shearwater population on Ohinau Island since 2016.

During the non-breeding season from May until September, the birds migrate to the Northern Hemisphere where they spend their time feeding in productive waters and increasing their body condition in preparation for the following breeding season.

The flesh-footed shearwater chicks that will depart the breeding colony on Ohinau Island for the first this month, will not return for at least five to six years. The birds always return to the same colony to pair up with a mate, find a burrow and eventually start to breed themselves.

Adult flesh-footed shearwaters from New Zealand and from Lord Howe Island in Australia have been tracked during the non-breeding season and are found to migrate to seas off the coast of Japan. Of all the birds tracked, every single one of them has gone to the same area.

However, there are many sightings of flesh-footed shearwaters off the coast of North America that no one can explain. It is unknown where these birds come from. It is possible that they are young birds that travel to a different area than the adults. This is what the WMIL aims to find out. Knowing where the Ohinau Island fledglings go is crucial to gaining a thorough understanding of the species so they can be protected.

The 10 chicks that are being tracked have all been fitted with GPS tags weighing less than 15g. The tags transmit data to satellites which is downloaded in order for the fledglings’ progress to be tracked live. The tags are fitted with solar panels and can transmit data for months and even up to a year. 

The following Mercury Bay businesses and oganisations sponsored and named each of the 10 chicks -

• Whitianga Sports - bird named Sue

• Gull Service Station - bird named Sushi

• Coromandel Bait - bird named Harry

• Mercury Bay Marine - bird named Sir Loin

• Marine Adventures - bird named Deidre

• Whitianga Ice - bird named Toby

• The Mercury Bay Informer - bird named Fiona

• Ngātei Hei - bird named Toanui Rua

• Longshore Marine - bird named Longshore

• Dive Zone Whitianga - bird named Dive Zone

Over the coming months, The Informer will publish updates on the birds’ journeys as the data from the tags received. You can also follow the WMIL Facebook page for the latest information, including photos and maps.

Pictured: Fiona, the flesh-footed shearwater chick sponsored by The Informer,  having her GPS tag fitted on Ohinau Island late last week.


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