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RENA update from Maritime NZ (183)

Monday, 28 November 2011 5:00 p.m.

Another 38 clean little blue penguins were released at Mt Maunganui this morning, joining 56 other birds released to return to their normal nesting grounds following the grounding of the Rena. 

Four penguins were released to their usual habitat at Waihī Beach on Saturday, and the last two shags still at the Te Maunga Wildlife centre were also released at Mt Maunganui over the weekend. 

National Oiled Wildlife Response Team Co-ordinator Kerri Morgan said about 240 penguins are still at the Wildlife Centre while their habitats are checked to ensure they are clean enough to return them to. With no oiled birds found in the last couple of weeks, intake sections of the Wildlife Centre are being "minimised" but can be ramped up quickly if there is another spill, she said. 

"Only a small number of oiled birds have been found in the last few weeks, but we are still looking," she said. 

All birds released went through a thorough process of having blood taken and ensuring they were able to pass their six hour continuous swimming test, as well as having the salt in their swimming pools increased to ensure they could tolerate returning to salt sea water. 

On Saturday night a team searched the Mt Maunganui area and checked 87 birds, which were not oiled, microchipping all those found so they could be monitored. The birds provide an opportunity to study two populations of penguins over the next few years - those that have been rehabilitated and released, and those unaffected by oil.

"We will be able to follow them to see what happens to breeding patterns and other factors." 

To date, 150 birds have been microchipped and released, and a team is headed to Rabbit Island today to do a post-release survey of the released birds to see if they have returned to their usual homes. 

"These birds have high 'site fidelity', which is why we can't release them until their habitat is cleaned." 

Forty-three New Zealand dotterels are still captive at the Wildlife Centre, after 17 were released on Friday. The remaining birds' habitat still has to be cleared before they can be returned. People who find oiled birds, dead or alive, please call 0800 333 771. 

Meanwhile, 26 containers were removed from the ship today. The total number of containers removed is now 145.

Penguins re-enter their native habitat