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New Zealand town builds underpass tunnel for penguins

Oamaru Harbor, in the South Island of New Zealand, has been the home to a colony of blue penguins since the early 1990s after they started nesting in a defunct quarry. These penguins only come ashore at night, when they make their daily trek from the sea, where they fish, to their nests crossing a potentially hazardous highway. In addition to traffic, tourists standing on the road posed a problem as well.

To make the little creature’s daily trek safe, city of Oamaru and a consortium of locals and researchers started building an underpass for Penguins in September this year. The underpass which took around three weeks to build was opened earlier this month. Power and waterlines that were already along the penguins’ route were also relocated to make a smooth passage. Jason Gaskill, general manager at Tourism Waitaki Limited said:

We were reasonably confident that, given their natural tendency to be out of direct sunlight and in in closed spaces, they would use it. Penguins are creatures of habit, so once they discover a safe, reliable path, they tend to follow other penguins. Once the penguins discovered it, it was just a matter of time until using it was consistent thing.

Oamaru’s blue penguin colony is one of the few populations to be growing amid a decline in numbers elsewhere in the world.

Also known as kororā and as fairy penguins in Australia, blue penguins are the smallest species of penguin. It grows to an average of 33 cm in height and 43 cm in length and inhabit coastal New Zealand and Australia. They hunt small fish, squid and red cod during daytime.

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