Counting penguins on Antipodes Island

Department of Conservation —  18/06/2015

By Jo Hiscock, Senior Biodiversity Ranger

Late last year I visited New Zealand’s Antipodes Islands to count penguins.

This was part of a regular survey to check how the populations of erect-crested and eastern rockhopper penguins are doing.

Eastern rockhopper penguin.

Eastern rockhopper penguin

The survey also monitored what effect recent slips have had on the penguin populations. Initial observations had suggested that up to one fifth of the colony had been affected by these natural slips.

Antipodes Island penguin colony. Photo: Kath Walker.

Antipodes Island penguin colony

We estimated that the slips occurred early in the year, which would have meant that chicks would have still been in the colonies.

Camping on Antipodes Island for penguin survey. Photo by Alison Ballance.

Camping for penguin survey

I warned the survey team that the penguin count would be hard work, and it lived up to expectations, with strong southerly squalls and snow falls. The southerly persisted for the entire four days that we camped out on the south coast.

DOC ranger Jo Hiscock counting penguins. Photo: Kathryn Pemberton.

Counting penguins

Erect-crested penguin nest numbers showed a 10% decline in areas where slips had affected colonies. However, it turned out that even in areas where slips had not occurred, nest numbers were down by 10%.

Erect-crested penguins. Photo: Kath Walker.

Erect-crested penguins

It’s possible that the penguins affected by slips may have moved colonies (boosting the non-slip colony figure). It’s also possible that pairs affected by slips may have had a year off breeding. Sea conditions may have caused a lower number of breeding attempts this year too. Penguins are notorious for yearly variation in breeding and nesting numbers.

Penguin counting team take a break. Photo: Alison Ballance.

Penguin counting team

The survey results for the eastern rockhopper penguin showed that there was no change from the 2011 count.

Eastern rockhopper penguin and erect-crested penguin. Photo by Kath Walker.

Eastern rockhopper penguin (left) and erect-crested penguin (right)

We are still working on teasing out the data to understand all of these results.

4 responses to Counting penguins on Antipodes Island


    Great work! I’ve flown over the Antipodes (Air Force Orion) but have never stepped ashore. Have over-nighted on Snares & Campbell. The Subantarctic is quite an experience – birdlife in particular.


    Hi guys 🙂 This sounds amazing – is there a way to get involved or someone to contact regarding getting involved with this? Thanks! Claire


    I hope you get a good camping rate…