Visitors to New Zealand are often surprised by the penguins in Akaroa Harbour. While the area doesn’t look much like the snowy tundra associated with penguin habitats, we do indeed have penguins! White Flippered Little Blue Penguins (korora) live around the coast of Canterbury and are seen on most Black Cat Akaroa Harbour cruises.
What do White-Flippered Penguins look like?
White-Flippered Penguins are among the smallest penguins in the world: only about 30cm tall and weighing about 1.5 kilos. They are a closely related to the Little Blue Penguin, but can be told apart from their cousins due to the white markings on their flippers.
Just like all penguins, White-Flippered Penguins have white underbellies. This aids in avoiding detection by their predators. When their predators are looking from below up to the surface the white belly aids in avoiding detection.
What do White-Flippered Penguins eat?
White-Flippered Penguins do not dive very deep under water. They can dive up to 60 metres, but 10-20 metres is much more common. Because of their shallow dive capacity, they prefer to feed on surface schooling fish, squid and crustaceans.
And what do they drink when they live in salt water? Amazingly, these penguins have a de-salinator in their heads to turn salt water into fresh water.
Where do White-Flippered Penguins live?
Unlike most penguins White-Flippered penguins are nocturnal, so they will sleep on land during the day and then head out to sea at night. They like to nest in burrows in the ground, or in caves and rock crevices. This gives them protection from predators. Sometimes they will nest under coastal vegetation and even under seaside houses!
White-Flippered Penguins live mostly in Canterbury, New Zealand. In Akaroa, there is a penguin colony in Flea Bay that is now a designated sanctuary – the colony can be visited from October to February.
What threats do White-Flippered Penguins face?
While not hunted by humans, White-Flippered Penguins do face threat from human actions: introduced predators like ferrets, stoats and cats have seriously reduced the penguin population. They are listed as ‘endangered’, and are one of only three penguin species in the world to be considered this threatened.