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Feisty refugee heads home after oil spill

Wednesday, 17 June 2015 10:00 a.m.

A feisty teenage penguin swam home to the rocks around Mauao this morning after about six weeks of luxury living following an oil spill in Tauranga Harbour in late April.

Mobil One, as he was named by bird rescuer Chrissy Jefferson, was the only oiled penguin found when heavy fuel oil escaped into the harbour on 27 April in the midst of a storm. He was found in the estuary near Chapel Street, badly oiled and in very poor condition, and was taken in by Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC).

He was delivered to Chrissy’s Oropi Native Bird Rescue Haven the next day, and she waited for 72 hours before attempting to wash the oil off him.

“It’s what they recommend in the US because it reduces their stress. He was very dehydrated, so at first we just pumped him with electrolytes three times a day,” she said.

The penguin didn’t need to eat immediately, but Mobil One wanted to eat as soon as he was clean, and took food (frozen anchovies) out of Chrissy’s fingers. She thinks he’s about 18 months old, a fledgling from the previous season, and he’s now well and ready for release.

She had thought there would be more oiled penguins, hence the ‘One’, but fortunately no other penguins were oiled in this incident. Now Mobil One is fully recuperated, it’s time for him to go home.

“He was always feisty, but now he’s getting stroppy and bites, so he’s ready to go.”

Mobil One has been living in the lap of luxury – hand-fed anchovies, and regular baths in Dawn dishwashing detergent imported from the US. Dawn dishwashing liquid did a better job than anything else following the 2011 Rena grounding, in which more than 400 penguins were oiled.

Chrissy makes sure anyone returning from the US brings more supplies of Dawn – it’s also useful for cleaning up farm cats which stroll through oil on the farm and get oily paws.

“I’d certainly rather wash a penguin than a cat though,” Chrissy says.

To regain his waterproofing Mobil One has been swimming in a 15 foot pool donated by Mobil, his namesake company, which owned the oil bunkering pipe which ruptured at the Port. Thanks to a donation from Taupo Bird Rescue, the new pool will also be fenced and kept at the haven for penguins, shags or other seabirds which end up at the Rescue Haven.

And Mobil One hasn’t been alone while he recuperated. Two other young penguins have been keeping him company, one attacked by a gull and the other found underweight. They were both now ready to go home too, so joined him when he swam off from the beach this morning. They trio will likely head out to see before returning to their burrows around the rocks.

Department of Conservation Officer John Heaphy said Tauranga had been very lucky that there was so little impact on wildlife from the oil spill.

“The bird nesting season was over, the last of the migratory waders had left for the northern hemisphere and we had no fur seals, especially pups, in the harbour. They’ve just started arriving now. The weather also helped, because there was a 40 knot northerly on an incoming tide that day, which washed the oil straight down the harbour,” he said.

There were only three wildlife fatalities – two oiled shags and a grey faced petrel – during the spill.

“It could have been very different. Tauranga Moana wildlife dodged a potentially catastrophic bullet this time.”

Click on images below for high resolution version

Penguin running to sea Penguin with Chrissy penguin with Chrissy 2

penguin in water Penguin by water penguin on beach 2

Penguin running to sea