Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Oil Spill Rehab Is Worth It

New Zealand researchers have justified the costs of wildlife responses to oil spills by demonstrating that penguins that were rehabilitated after the 2011 Rena oil spill in the Bay of Plenty have returned to normal behaviours.

In the study, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin (tinyurl.com/qbteuwb), members of Massey University’s Wildbase Oil Response Team used tracking devices to show that both rehabilitated and unaffected little blue penguins were diving to similar depths in similar locations. By analysing the carbon and nitrogen levels in the birds’ feathers, they were also able to show that the penguins were feeding on similar prey.

Co-author Dr Louise Chilvers said it’s necessary to evaluate the behaviour of animals affected by oil spills, and not just the overall survival rates. “Oil pollution not only affects the larger animals, like the little blue penguins, but can have severe impacts on all levels of the food chain, from krill all the way through to fish. Obviously, an animal’s ability to forage affects their long-term survival.”

This study, along with other research done over the past 2 years, indicates that the penguins are finding and eating enough prey to gain the nutrients and energy they need to survive and reproduce at similar rates to other populations of little blue penguins in Australia and New Zealand.

Chilvers says this study justifies the need to continue supporting oiled wildlife response. “Opponents of oiled wildlife response argue that rehabilitation is an expensive anthropogenic need to lessen the stress of oiled wildlife and has very little or no conservation value. This research shows rehabilitation and intervention is effective both in the short and long term.”