Benefit of penguins ‘outweighs dog walks’

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A long-time Timaru fisherman has thrown his support behind the campaign to keep dogs off Caroline Bay in summer.
Retired fisherman Brian Kenton, who was a former president of the New Zealand Commercial Fishermen’s Federation executive, said the importance of Timaru’s little penguin population could not be understated.
“I think we’re really lucky.”
He supported the Timaru Penguins’ group campaign against allowing dogs on Caroline Bay during summer mornings because of the growing importance of the birds to the South Canterbury town.
The current bylaw bans dogs from the beach from October to March every year, which helps protect the little blue penguin colony nesting and raising chicks at the port-end of the bay.
However, the Timaru District Council is discussing a change to the bylaw that would allow dogs on the bay from 5am to 9am from October to March.
Mr Kenton said he had been observing penguins on the east coast of the South Island since he began fishing from Port Chalmers, near Dunedin, in the 1950s.
Mr Kenton said there was plenty of tourism potential for Timaru if the penguin population was able to thrive, but it was good environmentally, as well.
While dog walkers had plenty of places to take their pooches, the penguins only nested in the bay.
Unlike other birds that could protect themselves by flying, penguins were stuck trying to waddle away from any predators, he said.
“They can go like billyo [in water] but they’re no good on land.”
Mr Kenton said he had taken his grandchildren down to the bay several times to watch the penguins come ashore.
The number of penguins around Dunedin, compared with what the population had been like 60 years ago, was concerning, he said.
He noted that when he began fishing from the port in Oamaru in the 1970s, the North Otago town barely had any little blue penguins dwelling there. Now, the penguin population had grown to be a popular tourist attraction. The potential for growth in a colony at Caroline Bay could provide the town with another visitor spot.
The Department of Conservation ranks the birds as “at risk – declining”, the highest category before being ranked “threatened”.
Mr Kenton said while he had nothing against dog owners and most owners were good about keeping their dogs away from penguins, there was a percentage of dog walkers who would not take care to keep their dogs away from nesting penguins.
“I think the penguins are worth a lot more to us than a few dogs walking on the bay.”
Dogs are allowed on the beach from April to September.
A council spokesman told The Courier the Timaru Penguins group’s petition was received at the council meeting on Tuesday last week and the issue would be discussed at the next council meeting in February.