Wildlife unit ready for further Rena spills

23:00, Jan 09 2012
PENGUIN PALACE: Fifteen little blue penguins and a dotterel earlier took a break in Palmerston North after being caught up in oily waters after the Rena crisis.

Staff at Massey University's wildlife centre are on standby for more work in Bay of Plenty after the Rena ship split in two, posing the risk of more oil spilling from the vessel.

Wildlife experts will soon decide whether the national oiled wildlife response unit will need to be re-mobilised after the cargo ship split in half on Sunday.

The ship grounded on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga in October.

National oiled wildlife response team co-ordinator and Massey University wildlife vet Kerri Morgan has been in Tauranga since October, and said the unit was ready to swing back into action if need be.

So far three oiled penguins had been brought into the incident control centre, where a wildlife team is still assessing damage to birds and animals in the area.

"Things have changed a little bit in the last two days but it really depends on what happens in the next 24 hours, before we will decide whether we need to re-establish the wildlife unit," she said yesterday.


"There's currently not a lot of oil being released. It's not as much as was anticipated."

Dr Morgan said authorities estimated about 100 tonnes of oil was still on board the ship before Christmas.

Since October, 313 penguins affected by the oil spill have been treated and released back into the wild, along with 54 dotterels and four shags. However, more than 100 penguins did not survive.

Milk powder was reported to have been in one of the shipping containers, but Dr Morgan said it posed no risk to animals.

"They may ingest it, but I don't think that's a risk for the wildlife."

Since Christmas, 21 little blue penguins and three other birds have been brought to Palmerston North for care. Of the penguins still in captivity, some are recovering from sores on their feet from being on land for too long, while the others cannot return home because the area where they were found is not yet clear of the threat of oil.

Maritime New Zealand said there had been no significant release of oil since the Rena split.

However, a sheen of oil between five and 10 metres wide was visible over about three kilometres of ocean.

Manawatu Standard