More at home in the Antarctic - Emperor penguins photographed by zoologist Dr Murray Potter in 2008.


Caution urged with emperor penguin

A Massey University researcher who has studied emperor penguins in Antarctica says the bird at Peka Peka beach looks to be in good shape.

Associate Professor John Cockrem, from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, spent three weeks camping and working with emperor penguins at a large colony at Cape Washington in Antarctica in 2004. He spent that time studying stress responses in the birds.

The emperor penguin is only the second known to have visited New Zealand.

Dr Cockrem says pictures of the bird suggest it is in good health. “It is showing the normal behaviour associated with its species,” he says. “As long as people stay well away from it and it is not scared by dogs, it should be fine.”

Penguins are naturally curious animals and the presence of people shouldn’t stress it too much. “But if it is chased or scared suddenly then it will get stressed out,” Dr Cockrem says.

The penguin is likely to head back to sea of its own accord, but if it doesn’t and needs to be taken into captivity, Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland is the logical place, he says. “Emperor penguins need a cold climate to survive, and they have the facilities to provide that.”

Taking the penguin back to Antarctica would be problematic because of the risk of introducing diseases to Antarctica and also the wintry conditions at the moment.

Dr Cockrem is an associate professor of comparative physiology and anatomy. He has conducted endocrine studies of stress with a range of species including birds such as the kakapo, North Island brown kiwi, Adelie penguin, and chicken, together with reptiles, amphibians and marine mammals.


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