Wildlife death toll rises

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 20:17 14/10/2011
Rescued fur seal
Iain McGregor/Fairfax

RESCUED: Three young fur seals were taken off the Tauranga coastline before the oil washed ashore, including this young pup.

Rena Bruce Goff
Maritime New Zealand Zoom
Oil responder Bruce Goff with the Terminator oil skimmer ready for deployment. on Sunday, October 23.

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Oil from the stricken ship Rena, which grounded on the Astrolabe reef last Wednesday, has killed at least 1000 birds with wildlife experts fearing the casualty list will grow.

"It's estimated that what we are seeing is only a small percentage [of birds killed]," wildlife technician Pauline Conayne said earlier.

The high death toll was having a serious effect on workers at the makeshift wildlife centre outside Tauranga, with those in charge considering bringing in a counsellor to help people.

"It's not something we can ever prepare ourselves for," Conayne said.

"When you see pictures it's upsetting, but when you're here it really touches your heart."

The centre was hosting about 130 birds, including 51 that had to be treated and have the oil removed from their feathers.

The majority of the birds were little blue penguins, which were trying to bite their keepers between swims, Conayne said.

"That's a good sign."

"They're being fed, swum and generally loved to death."

There were also 17 critically endangered dotterels, which were kept in closed cages with "keep quiet" signs posted around the edges.

Only about 1500 dotterels are left. They are extremely territorial and needed to be kept separately from each other.

Three young seals rescued from the oil-soaked sea were "behaving well" at the centre.

The pups were corralled by conservation staff as a precaution two days ago, lest they be covered in the sticky black mess now coating the Bay of Plenty coastline.

The seals, two that were "just weaned" and another three-year-old male, were kept in cages well away from the birds.

"They're being very good, very well behaved," Conayne said. "They're no trouble."

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