Tourists got the "chance of a lifetime" to hold and photograph a trio of juvenile little blue penguins on Friday after the birds were rescued from the bottom of a drain sump near the Picton Foreshore.
The penguins, which still had patches of soft grey fur, likely swam up a drain pipe from the Waitohi Stream but fell into a 2 metre-deep sump at the end of the pipe outside the Edwin Fox Museum on Auckland St. The drain is covered by a grill at road level but the pipe out of the sump, which is intended to collect debris, was not.
Picton Float Plane owner and penguin rescuer Alistair Gray said a couple of tourists alerted museum staff to the crying penguins and staff called him to help save them.
He used a piece of metal like a crowbar to pry up the grill and dangled down into the drain to reach them out.
"They go up the pipe thinking it's a great little burrow and fall into the sump at the end of it. If there's a bit of water they could float out again but if not they could just starve in there. They only face one way so when they get to the end of the pipe they just keep going and fall in."
A couple of French tourists watched the rescue and were excited to be handed the penguins for a few quick photos.
"It was a once in a lifetime thing for them, they seemed pretty happy about it. They held them for a while before we put them in a box and let them go into the harbour."
Many little blue penguins nest in and around Picton and often visit the foreshore to find food around their spring breeding time.
"These ones could have been in there for a day before someone noticed. They could eventually die in there. I think they'll be quite happy now to go look for some food."
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