Hundreds of penguins have washed up dead on various beaches across the northern coast of New Zealand, and conservationists are blaming climate change.
The kororā, commonly known as little blue penguin, are the world’s smallest penguins and are classified as an at-risk, declining species, according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.
Authorities estimate more than 500 penguins have died since early May, but numbers could increase up to 1,000.
During one week, local residents found 183 dead penguins at Ninety Mile Beach and another flock of 100 at Cable Bay in the Northern region, according to the Guardian.
Initially, scientist tested the birds for any possible infections that could cause mass death.
However, they concluded that many of these birds were suffering from malnutrition after not finding food.
“All of the bodies were found to be super underweight. These birds should be around 800 to 1,000 grams, but they were way down around half that weight,” DoC scientists said, according to the Guardian.
They said that rising ocean temperatures have caused fish to move deeper into cooler waters or completely migrate to new areas.
The little blue penguin can dive up to 20 or 30 meters, but the fish are now moving too out of reach for them.
Mass death of this penguin species can happen every now and then, but “as you start seeing it happen regularly like this, then there’s really not much chance for the birds to recover between the events, and rebuild the numbers again,” said Taylor.
Little blue penguin population in the southern region have remained stable.
Last year, for its sixth-consecutive year, the ocean recorded its warmest temperature again.