Premium tourism company, Southern Discoveries, is celebrating its fourth year sponsoring the Tawaki Project in Milford Sound.
The tawaki is one of three penguin species that live and breed on the New Zealand mainland. However, it is the least studied species due to the penguins nesting in hard-to-reach spaces such as caves, boulders and rock crevasses.
The Tawaki Project is a long-term study of the marine ecology, breeding biology and population dynamics of the tawaki.
In 2015, it was estimated that the entire Fiordland region had only nine breeding pairs. The Southern Discoveries Milford Sound team, who provide kayaking tours at Harrison Cove, strongly believed the Cove had a higher population of tawaki than estimated.
What was done
The Southern Discoveries team organised a trip to Harrison Cove for Dr Thomas Mattern, Scientific Director at the NZ Penguin Initiative and leader of the Tawaki Project, to assess the area.
When the team searched Harrison Cove, they discovered 17 active nests. It was evident this was an active breeding spot that would be an excellent area for study.
Research began at Harrison Cove and has since concluded that the local population of tawaki in Milford Sound is estimated to be around 180 breeding pairs, twenty times more than the original estimate.
“The Project has unearthed key scientific facts about the tawaki that would not have been discovered without the initiative and support of Southern Discoveries that resulted in the work at Harrison Cove,” said Dr Mattern.
Other key findings showed that the breeding conditions were highly beneficial for the penguins, with unusually high birth survival rates compared to numerous other locations around New Zealand.
The work at Harrison Cove hugely boosted public awareness of the tawaki through social media engagement.
In July, the tawaki returned for its annual breeding season.