The yellow-eyed penguin is endemic to New Zealand and is also a popular cultural icon in New Zealand (Katz, 2017). However, over the years these penguins have faced population declines and are now considered to be endangered. Human disturbance has a large impact on the population of yellow-eyed penguins. A large cause of population declines comes from unregulated tourism (McClung et al., 2004). Since these penguins do not have many habituation opportunities, they are more sensitive to human tourism (French et al., 2018).
Tourism impacts stress, reproduction, and behavior in yellow-eyed penguins (Ellenberg et al., 2007). The presence of humans around these penguins causes an increase in stress-induced corticosterone. If this stress is prolonged or frequent, it can result in decreased fitness and survival in adults (Ellenberg et al., 2007). This increased stress can also impact the behavior of adults and their reproductive success (French et al., 2018).
Tourists often will ignore fences and signs in order to get closer to the penguins (Huffadine, 2018). Penguins in these touristed areas have lower breeding success and lower fledgling weights (McClung et al., 2004). A large reason for this is that the presence of tourism will cause the stressed penguins to change their behavior to avoid the humans. These changes in behavior include a decrease in the time spent at their nest, an increase in travel time, and an increase in the likelihood of nest abandonment (French et al., 2018). These changes in the behavior of adults cause negative impacts on the survival of their children.
Parental care is an important factor in the growth of fledglings. However, with the adult penguins spending more time avoiding the nests because of tourism, the fledglings receive lower provisions. Continuously missing meals or missing a meal during a year with poor food supply can lead to lighter fledgling weights and even death (Huffadine, 2018). Lower fledgling weight can have long-term population consequences like lower survival and recovery rates (McClung et al., 2004). It is important for humans to better mitigate the impacts of tourism in order to help protect this endangered species.
Ellenberg U., Setiawan A. N., Cree A., Houston D. M., Seddon P. J. (2007) Elevated hormonal stress response and reduced reproductive output in Yellow-eyed penguins exposed to unregulated tourism. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 152(1):54-63.
French R., Muller C., Chilvers B., Battley P. (2019). Behavioural consequences of human disturbance on subantarctic Yellow-eyed Penguins Megadyptes antipodes. Bird Conservation International, 29(2), 277-290.
McClung M. R., Seddon P. J., Massaro M., Setiawan A.N. (2004) Nature-based tourism impacts on yellow-eyed penguins Megadyptes antipodes: does unregulated visitor access affect fledging weight and juvenile survival?, Biological Conservation, 119(2):279-285.
Katz B. (2017) New Zealand’s Yellow-Eyed Penguins May Be in Trouble. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-zealands-yellow-eyed-penguins-may-be-trouble-180963340/
Huffadine L. (2018) People with selfie sticks are harming endangered yellow-eyed penguins. https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/105577298/people-with-selfie-sticks-are-harming-endangered-yelloweyed-penguins