Little blue penguins — a flightless bird native to New Zealand and the world’s smallest penguin species — have been washing up dead on the country’s beaches, in what experts say are more frequent mass die-offs amid changing climate patterns.
Hundreds of lifeless birds have been found in northern New Zealand since early May, though the exact number is difficult to determine and reports are still coming in, said Graeme Taylor, principal science adviser at the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
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The penguins, also known as korora, were tested for diseases and biotoxins, but appeared to have died from starvation, Taylor said.
“All the birds were at least half the normal weight, they had no fat on them at all and their muscle tissue had wasted away.”
It is not unusual for seabirds to die off in large numbers because of severe weather, conservationists say. But mass deaths among little blue penguins, which used to take place about once a decade, have now happened three times in six years, Taylor said.