Black Cat dives in to save penguins
22 Jul 2009
A New Zealand cruise operator specialising in wildlife and scenic tours of Akaroa and Lyttelton harbours - near Christchurch, in the South Island - is going the extra mile to save an endangered penguin.
Black Cat Cruises has taken on the plight of the white flippered penguin - a close cousin of the region’s little blue penguin - and is literally putting staff in deep water to help save the species dwindling numbers.
Penguins in peril
Black Cat Cruises managing director Paul Bingham says that over the last 20 years approximately 70 percent of the local population of white flippered penguins has been lost.
"This is mainly due to predators including cats, rats, stoats and ferrets, and Black Cat has been working on trapping these predators around the entrance to Akaroa Harbour for the last six months," he said.
Staff members have carried out work, often in their own time, setting traps where the penguins nest. But it’s proved a challenging operation because of the inaccessibility of the nesting places.
"It has meant staff have had to swim from a boat dragging the traps and bait as they are not accessible by land. Already we have succeeded in catching some rats and stoats and will continue this project to create a safer habitat for the penguins," Bingham said.
White flippered penguins
At only 30cm tall, white flippered penguins are the smallest penguins in the world. They are only found in Canterbury on Banks Peninsula, confined to inaccessible headlands, caves and rock jumbles.
White flippered penguins breed from July to December, usually underground in burrows or natural holes but will also make use of any man-made cavity or nest under buildings. Nests can be more than 500m inland and 200m up hillsides.
Paul Bingham says cruise boats are currently seeing white flippered penguins every day - mostly out feeding.
"They can’t hold their breath very long so have to keep popping up out of the water. We can often get quite close to them," he said.
Rich in wildlife, the Akaroa and Lyttelton harbours are home to the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphin - the Hector’s or New Zealand dolphin.
Black Cat Cruises’ primary function is to take tourists swimming with the dolphins. They recently received world-wide publicity when introducing the use of dry suits - a world first.
The company’s scenic and wildlife cruises offer the chance to see a variety of different birds, as well as endangered yellow-eyed penguins and New Zealand fur seals.
Akaroa harbour was a live volcano nine million years ago, and spectacular ancient lava flows are still visible, including a sheer 152m cliff face.
Black Cat cruises covers the history of the region and takes visitors to harbour highlights like Scenery Nook, a dramatic pink, purple and red volcanic amphitheatre.
Black Cat Cruises
Black Cat Cruises has been operating in the Canterbury region for 24 years.
A leading New Zealand eco-tourism business - thought to be the first established - Black Cat Cruises is committed to best environmental practices. It has won numerous accolades including New Zealand’s Supreme Tourism Award.
Black Cat contributes NZ$75,000 annually to a number of environmental and community programmes, including marine mammal education and research fund, the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust, and university research projects.
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