Hundreds of little blue Korora penguins have died and washed up on New Zealand's northern shore, likely killed by starvation caused climate change, according to a seabird scientist. Photo courtesy of New Zealand Department of Conservation.
June 17 (UPI) -- Hundreds of dead, small kororā penguins that washed ashore on the northern New Zealand coast appear to have starved to death and researcher point to climate change as the likely cause.
"They're just skin and bones," Graeme Taylor, a seabird scientist with the New Zealand Department of Conservation, told Radio New Zealand.
"They've got no fat on their body. They need that insulation of the fat layer to keep them warm. And they haven't got that [and] they haven't got much muscle tissue on them."
As ocean temperatures warm, small fish the penguins eat swim deeper to get to cooler waters. The small penguins can only dive to depths of 65 to 100 feet below the ocean surface.
With their main food source out of reach, hundreds of the penguins have died.
Taylor is principal science adviser at the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
According to Taylor, mass deaths of the little blue penguins used to occur roughly once every 10 years, but in six years, there have been three mass die-offs.
Taylor said La Niña, a weather event that affects the climate pattern around the world every three to five years, combined with a marine heat wave, has made it much harder for the penguins to feed.
La Niña creates a periodic cooling of ocean temperatures in the east-central Pacific around the equator but it brings warmer water to northern New Zealand.
New Zealand had its hottest year ever recorded in 2021, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.