The Great Fiordland Whio Race 2016

Department of Conservation —  14/04/2016

By Ranger Kate Hebblethwaite, Te Anau

Cake and gambling aren’t the usual bedfellows of river birds. For Whio Awareness Month, however, Fiordland DOC staff were prepared to set aside diets and principals.

Andrew ‘Max’ Smart and Oska release the rubber whio into the Upukerora River at the start of the race.

Andrew ‘Max’ Smart and Oska release the rubber whio into the Upukerora River at the start of the race. Photo: Graham Dainty

Hot on the success of the inaugural Great Fiordland Whio Race last year, the 2016 event, held on Te Anau’s Upukerora River on 19 March, was yet another action packed affair. Doubling the field from 2015, 200 blue rubber ducks competed under the watchful eye of conservation dog Oska, specially trained to sniff out whio in the wilds of Fiordland.

The crowd watching the race along the river.

The crowd watches the race. Photo: Graham Dainty.

Betting opened at 11am and all ducks were quickly sold in a frenzy that rivalled anything seen in Las Vegas.

Heat One winners are announced on a whiteboard.

Heat One winners are announced. Photo: Graham Dainty

Conservation Services Ranger, Andrew ‘Max’ Smart, who manages the Fiordland whio programme, released the thoroughbred racers into the river. With a race course of 300m, involving rapids, eddies, weeds and rock, this was no time to be a lame duck. Oska was on hand to round up any wily quackers that tried to escape.

DOC staff and volunteers brave icy waters to retrieve the racing ducks.

DOC staff and volunteers brave icy waters to retrieve the racing ducks. Photo: Graham Dainty

After two preliminary heats and a Grand Final, the eventual race victor was 5 year-old Ianthe Macmillan-Armstrong, who was thrilled to receive the coveted Champions trophy.

Race winner, Ianthe Macmillan-Armstrong shows off her trophy.

Race winner, Ianthe Macmillan-Armstrong shows off her trophy. Photo: Graham Dainty

As well as the duck race, the whio family fun day also included face-painting, a scavenger hunt, and a chance to meet Oska himself.

Competition prizes were generously donated by Real Journeys, Air New Zealand and Genesis Energy, and the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, who maintain stoat trapping lines in the Glaisnock Wilderness area, cooked up a sausage storm on the BBQ.

Earlier in the week, blue food colouring was the hero ingredient in a whio-themed cupcake sale. Cakes were generously provided by the Wapiti Bakery in Te Anau, and businesses throughout the town placed orders for their quacking good morning tea.

Blue duck cupcakes.

Whio cupcakes ready for delivery. Photo: Michelle Crouchley

The amount raised through the two events – over $600; the advocacy value – priceless.

With an estimated nationwide population of less than 2,500 birds, whio are rarer than kiwi. Fiordland is home to a sizeable population of whio, and numbers are increasing in areas where pest eradication measures are in place.

The support of Genesis Energy is enabling DOC to double the number of fully secure whio breeding sites throughout the country, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival for these rare native ducks.

The whio lineup.

The whio lineup. Photo: Graham Dainty

This year has been a bumper breeding season for Fiordland whio, allowing a number of juveniles to be translocated into Mount Aspiring National Park to increase pair numbers there. In Fiordland, a number of local whio translocations have also taken place to ensure wild population numbers continue to grow.

2 responses to The Great Fiordland Whio Race 2016

  1. 

    Great story, great event – and a very, very neat bird. Keep it up, Team Whio!

  2. 

    A fantastic why to highlight the plight of the Whio, raise some money and generally just a great PR exercise. Well done – especially Oska and invaluable member of the team 😉